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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Raising Pumpkins

Today I persuaded Steve to take me to Wilco to get a bale of straw so that I could get the pumpkins up off the ground, so off to the farm store we went.  Going into one of these places is kind of fun for me, because I am such a wannabe, and also because my first job was in a hardware store that had been started during the Depression as an orchardists' cooperative and I've never lost my love of hardware.  You go in there and you have no earthly clue what more than half the stuff they have is for- but real farmers and ranchers do.

We wandered over to the food preserving section and picked up some more pints and quart jars- they had a really great price on them.  I don't mess around and buy only wide mouth jars- it's easier to fill them and I like having only one size lid to buy.   We then took them to checkout and asked for the straw bale there, which was $5.99.  I don't think that if I had horses to bed that I'd be very happy about paying six bucks a bale, but since it was just for pumpkins and I knew I'd have a lot left over, I was okay with parting with six dollars.  Anyway, we just needed to go over to the loading area and give the guy the loading copy of our receipt and we'd get our pound of flesh bale of straw.

Now- I have to admit feeling like an asshole pulling into their loading area for a bale of straw in a BMW wagon, but that is the only vehicle Steve and I own. We made the decision some years ago to be a one car family, so we have a nice one, but today was one of those days where I would have given my left one if I'd had a truck.  Come to think of it, I don't have a left one either, but you know what I mean.  Even though we'd spread a tarp in the back, poor Steve had to spend some time with the shop vac and the car while I jaunted off to the backyard in my overalls and straw hat, with a bale of straw in the wheelbarrow.  He's so good to me.

I got the straw set under all the pumpkins (there were fifteen of them!) and then checked out the rest of the cucurbits and took care of the Charentais and Liberty melons that needed it.  The Hapless Honeydews are still without child, and I'm beginning to think it might be too late for them.  It's interesting to see what a huge difference covering the melon with bubble wrap made, not to mention starting them in mid-February.  The two melons that got covered now have fruits, which I expect will ripen in the August heat, at least I hope they will, but I'm not at all sure there's time enough for the honeydews to set fruit and ripen in time before the weather gets too cold.  An interesting lesson learned, to be sure.

So that is how you raise pumpkins.



And Charentais melon.



And Liberty melon.








On a side note, I'm not sure if any of the Triamble seeds that Novella at Ghost Town Farm was kind enough to send me came up or not.  All nine hills that I planted have at least one squash in them, but I have nothing yet that looks remotely tri-lobed, so I don't know what is going on.  It's too bad too, because I was looking forward to trying the squash.  They're at least really pretty! Supposed to be great flesh and really good keepers.   Maybe I'll just order some seed next year from The Seed Savers Exchange.  Or maybe one of the baby pumpkins I have will morph into a tri-lobed Triamble, I don't know.  I'll keep you posted, though.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Muuuuuch Better!

For some reason, and I'm not at all sure why, between torquing my back and the stress from my interview on Monday (haven't heard anything yet), much of this week was spent feeling absolutely yucky.  I had a vague but constant headache, and nothing I ate settled well, when I felt like eating, which was infrequent.  Steve knew there was something wrong with me when I refused a glass of wine.  So yesterday, while Steve stopped for a mocha (not interested in that, either) on the way to the grocery store, I stopped in at a chiropractor's office in the same strip mall and made an appointment for today, which I kept.  I feel so much better!  Not one hundred percent yet, but a whole lot better than I did prior.   I haven't seen a chiropractor since I lost my job last September, and I used to go twice a month, so I really, really needed to get adjusted.

The doctor said that because I pronate, which I knew, he wants me to spend more time walking barefoot around the house, which I thought interesting. I have high arches- not as high as they used to be, but the pronation thing has not helped them or my posture, so if walking around without shoes will help, I'm all for it as long at the weather's warm.  I don't know about you, but I pretty much never go barefoot- I hate getting my feet dirty- so I padded around in thick socks.  Plus, we have a slate floor which is always cold.

Something else I think is interesting is that all chiropractors do things differently, by which I mean, they all seem to have different ways of adjusting you.  My guess is that in addition to the differences in how they're educated,  they use whatever technique works for them physically.

Then when we were done with the adjustments, he had me get up on a bilateral scale that tells you how much of your weight you are carrying on either side of your body.  I was within five pounds of either side, so I was balanced pretty well.  The good news there was I'd lost three pounds this week, and I'm going to attribute that to having no appetite.  He also told me to do my regular activities- he didn't want me restricted, so this afternoon I braided up the rest of the garlic, which was finally ready for it, and tied up the cucumbers.  It appears that I have cukes to pickle, so I'll pick them tomorrow morning before they get hot.  As long as I pickle them within forty-eight hours, they should be okay.

Did I mention that my appetite came back, with a vengeance, almost immediately?  I'm still eschewing the vino, figuring that I can keep the weight coming off if I cut out the empty calories.  Getting a few pounds off would probably help my ankles, too.  I should probably mention here that I opened up the Buffalo Bleu Kettle Chips that Steve bought yesterday at the grocery store, so I didn't quite eschew the empty calories.  I did say 'with a vengeance'.

In the meantime, though, the lampshade came in from PB, so here is the finished lamp:


I like it.  And yes, that's a soup can holding pens and pencils in the background there.  Some things are purely utilitarian, and that's okay too.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Perspective

I've been out of commission, since the latter part of the week, having messed up my back laying cardboard and path bark by myself.  I'm not sure which move did the damage actually, but I haven't screwed up like this the whole gardening season until now.  I'm finally able to move without groaning, so I know I'm on the mend.  Will I take myself outside to work in the garden today?  The answer is no.  Today I'm getting ready for a job interview tomorrow at two in the afternoon.

This is the first interview I've been called in on since starting to look for work in November, and I sure hope it sticks.  It would be a good gig for me, doing what it is I do (IT purchasing) and the salary is right where I need it to be.  Plus, I'd have to commute through Portland, which I actually like to do.  The building is one block away from a light rail station, so the commute, although longish, would be a piece of cake.

In the meantime, here's a series of pictures showing the progression of our garden:

What the back of the house looked like when we bought it in August, 2008.

Last summer's garden, early in the season.  I was busy with the interior of the house, which by the way, still isn't finished yet. But that one planter box was all that I had time for.


What a difference a year makes, huh?  Actually, we wouldn't be this far along if I wasn't unemployed.  I employed myself, I guess.  Still, there's a lot of work left to be done, but all in good time, my pretty; all in good time.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It Always Takes Longer

Monday and Tuesday of this week were busy, but I didn't seem to get a lot done. Things just took a lot longer than I thought they would.  I did get the new trellis for the salad cucumbers made and installed.


I also got the lamp built.  Back when Dave and Carl were here we hit a few second hand stores for fun, and one of the things for which I was looking was a lamp.  I didn't find one I liked, but I did find a great barley twist candle holder. Over this past weekend I bought the parts I needed, which was most of them.  The only thing I could salvage from the lamp we broke was the wiring.  Yesterday after getting the trellis done, I next tackled making the lamp.  I've rewired lots of lamps, in fact, I don't think there's a lamp in the house that I haven't rewired- all of them were purchased second hand.  But I've never made a lamp from something that wasn't already a lamp.  This one involved unscrewing the metal candle cup off the top and drilling a couple of holes for the wire, and then enlarging the hole on the top so that the threaded nipple could sit in it.  Then I basically strung and glued everything together.  The 'candle' is a piece of half-inch PVC pipe that I sanded clean.  I ordered this lamp shade in red from Pottery Barn this morning, which is kind of funny.  The candle holder cost $4.95; the lamp harp kit was $3.97; the nipples were $2.97; and the socket kit was  $4.47, so the lamp cost me $16.36, but the shade cost $49, plus $11 shipping, so sixty bucks.  But that is usually the case when building a lamp, or more in my case, refurbishing a lamp- the lamp and parts cost next to nothing and the shade always costs more.  I think that this will probably be the most expensive shade I've ever purchased, but I also think it will set off the lamp just so, i.e., I'll like it a lot.  Steve liked it too.  I'll show you what it looks like once I get it on the lamp.  I think I'll also have to change tables for it, because the shade is so darn big at seventeen inches across the bottom.  Good thing I already have just the right table for it.

Other than that, the only other thing I got done this week was to plant some January King cabbage seeds and transplant some onions.  I have watering to do this morning, among other things, and I'll get out there just as soon as my work pants are dry.  It was so cold this morning (low fifties) that I didn't bother hanging the grubby load out- I need my pants sooner than that.

Then tonight I have a sewing class so that I can learn to use my new sewing machine.  Confession: I bought it last August, but haven't gotten around to learning how to use it.  It was the most like my old Singer that finally bit the dust after thirty years, but it's somewhat computerized, so I need to go learn its ropes.  Then, watch out. I like to sew, and there's a lot of it needed around here.

The rest of what I have are just pictures from around the place. Stuff is growing. 

Baby Charentais melon

Pumpkin flowers: male on the left, female on the right

Dinner tonight (for me, anyway)- artichoke (Steve doesn't really care for them)

My breakfast this morning: raisin bran with added sunflower seeds and fresh alpine strawberries

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Busy Sunday

The weather has still been cooperating, so I was finally able to till my back forty (square feet, not acres!).  Oh! I didn't tell you about my tiller!

Almost done here.  What a champ this little tiller is!
It was a toss up between the Troy Bilt 6.5 amp electric mini tiller and the Sears Craftsman, since they both got rave reviews.  In the end I opted for the Craftsman because it was easier to locate, and my past experience with buying power tools (wood working, that is) has always been go to Home Depot, see what they got, go to Sears, see what they got, go to Lowes, see what they got, go back to Sears and buy the Craftsman because it's better designed than everything else.  I once burned out a Craftsman 4-inch belt-sander fixing a floor (the drum sander I rented was out of balance and I seriously wrecked my hardwood floor with it and the HUD inspector was coming the next day, so I had to get the floor done) and so I returned it and they replaced it, no questions asked.  Anyway- I love this tiller!  No lie- I already broke ground with a spading fork, because I wouldn't have tried breaking that ground with a regular tiller- that would be like taking it to concrete.  It did a great job of breaking up the dirt clods and mixing in my compost and soil amendments: playground sand, green sand, rock phosphate, bone meal and kelp meal.  I was very happy with it. Very.  By the way, it was marked at $249 in the store, but I had my screen print of the price they set at $199.99, so that's what I paid for it.  Another case of ask for the deal.

That pretty much took all day.  Then halfway through the day when I was getting something out of the fridge I noticed all the food I'd put up in the front of the fridge:

Top to bottom left: raspberry jam, strawberry jam, blackberry jam- this year.  Top to bottom center: chestnuts preserved in syrup and tomato sauce- last fall and summer.  Last jar right: salsa verde - last summer

Tonight's dinner was grilled and otherwise cooked outside.  While I had steaks on the 'cue, I also cooked zucchini from the garden and some carrots on the new stove.  It's like restaurant cooking- it burns so much hotter than my indoor stove.  I like the new camp stove a lot as well.

Frothing about the new batch

And then last, but not least, I get to sleep with Steve's girlfriend, Bubbles.  Bubbles is keeping an eye on the latest brew, which is fermenting in the coldest part of my house- my side of the bed in our bedroom.  The sad part is, he's brewing a hefeweizen, which I don't like.

Honestly, I'm so tired, I doubt Bubbles will keep me up, even if I do suspect that she has designs on my husband.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Busy Saturday

Steve wanted to brew today, so we went into Portland after brewing supplies.  We first stopped at The Urban Farm Store for me to get bone meal and rock phosphate for amending a patch of soil at the back into which I hope to plant most of our winter vegetables.  The Tour de Coop people are raffling off this coop/tractor, which I thought a very good design.  I signed up/paid for three chances on the coop, but took several pictures to give me ideas for my coop.  Interestingly, the City of West Linn has finally put definitive information on the city's website regarding the keeping of chickens, and although it's a little more restrictive than I would have liked to see, at least it's finally something concrete regarding the subject and I'm glad to see it.  I also think it's amusing that they prohibit roosters (no surprise) but then represent chickens, i.e., hens, which are allowed, with a picture of a rooster.  Anyway, I liked this coop/tractor design, although I don't think it quite perfect. But it does give me something to think about.


This afternoon, I chased a mother coon and kit out of the backyard twice (they evidently didn't get it the first time), and a little while later I heard Steve holler that they were up the gum tree.  So we managed this:
That's mama coon, and don't you dare say she's cute.  I'll spare you the details of what I'd do if I could get close enough with my spading fork.  The fact that they were in the yard twice makes me realize that I need to move quickly on making the back fence impenetrable.  I have corn ripening as I write this.

We also put together our outdoor kitchen.  It is not a sixty-thousand dollar monster that would frankly, embarrass me, but a modest two-burner propane number with folding card table.  It is all I really wanted (save the outdoor oven, but we can't manage everything all at once) to have in place to be able to can out of doors when the weather gets awful.  As it is, it's been really lovely lately- in the low seventies, but I imagine that along about the time that the tomatoes are ready to can, the weather will be pretty awful.  Which means that we'll be canning outside.  I will probably move the table closer to the stove for that, but it's fine where it is now.  Besides, it's currently closer to the outdoor electrical receptacle, which means, you guessed it: blender drinks! 
Anyway, getting this together is a load off my mind because I really wanted to be able to can outside and now I can do that.  The other, important reason for getting this set up together is now Steve can brew outside if necessary. (And the really, really important thing is, if he decides to get a bigger brew pot than five gallons, now he's not constricted by the height of the hood over our indoor stove- he can brew as much as he wants!)

And then last, but not least, is how I hang up the wash when wearing my bibs.  They come in really handy for parking clothespins.  What makes this strategy especially important is that I asked Steve to leave the clover patches for the bees the last time he mowed the lawn, which he did, and I'm happy to report that the clover patches are now full of bees.  The only problem is that most of them are in the vicinity of, or right under, the clothes dryer.  So I have to pick my way carefully, and pretty much stay put.  Having the pins clipped to my bib makes hanging the wash a lot easier- I'd still do it this way if there weren't bees.  But, a bunch of them were in the clover, and the pumpkins, and the cucumbers, and the summer squash today, and I'm really relieved to see them at last.  Accommodating them however I can seems no big deal, and I find that I'm fascinated by them- how much worse that addiction will be when I have my own hive!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Strawberries and Whine


The alpine strawberries have been so gung ho lately that there was a glut of two-thirds of a cup of them all ripe at the same time.

That's enough for a micro-batch of jam, I thought to myself.  The pan I had in mind when I picked them would have been the right size, but it's not non-reactive, so when jam making time came today, I grabbed a stainless steel one, which had a much larger surface area.  This turned out to be key.

Now, I followed this little project on the heels of a successful batch of sixteen half-pints of blackberry jam, courtesy of Larry and Kathy again.  Boy, when they over pick and buy a batch of berries, they do it in a big way.  It turns out that all they needed was three cups for their freezer jam.  When I measured the remainder they brought to me, it was four quarts!  And I was out of half-pint jars, so I had to run out to Safeway to buy more.  Twenty-four dollars later I was back at the house, making and canning jam.  I use a four to three ratio of fruit to sugar, and cook it in my biggest pot, which is my stock pot, until it hits anywhere from 220 to 222F on a candy thermometer.  Which reminds me to tell you that later when he was drying up the dishes for me, Steve said, "What a sad commentary it is on the state of things when thermometers are marked for cooking crack."

Anyway, since this is the second time in a row of successfully making jam with low pectin fruit, I felt pretty sure of myself with the little batch of alpine strawberries. Everything was going fine until I poured it from the pan into the jar, when I noticed that I'd probably made strawberry candy, which, as it turned out, I did.



The jam is a little stiff coming out of the jar, but it's still pretty darn good on bread with butter.

Yuck!

This greeted me this morning when I went after the raccoons.

Thank you Mr. Slug, for decorating my screen door.   It's never looked so good!

I suspect that's what slug sex looks like, or rather, the aftermath of slug sex.  I mean, what else can account for all this slime?

Obviously, we will be taking the screen door out of its tracks to hose and scrub it down, but it will probably have to wait until this weekend.


          
                                  Ewwww!

A Revelation

By this time you all know how I seriously hate raccoons and that my idiot neighbor is feeding them.   The impression that I got from the arguments his wife and daughter proffered on his behalf (he's been doing it for years, they've never bothered their vegetables, etc.) was that I would not be able to persuade him to stop.

I emailed the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to find out whether it's against the law to feed raccoons, or if they had any suggestions for what I could do, and they were pretty unhelpful.  No laws against it, and no real suggestions for me.

Then this morning while enjoying my first cup of coffee, sitting there bleary-eyed and rumpled, I heard a trilling that didn't sound like the birds.  But instantly I was awake, because I was pretty sure what it was.  And yes, a masked little face was peering through the bushes at the top of the fence.  I kicked off my slippers, mashed my feet into my gardening clogs, and threw open the sliding screen door, grabbing the spading fork I've taken to leaving by the door and lit out after it.  'It' turned out to be three babies, and they made themselves pretty scarce when they saw me coming.  I went back into the house to sit down at the table, drink my coffee and have a good think about this. 

And then I had a revelation.

What's happening is that the raccoons are using my back fence as a through way to Dick's All-Nite Diner, and what is prompting them into the garden proper is the various bushes and trees that hang over the fence that make their way difficult.

What I need to do is make the entire length of the fence difficult, or painful, or just plain a pain in the ass so that they find some other way to get to Dick's.  I may wind up having to buy coon repellent for the front yard, but by hook or by crook, I am going to keep those damn raccoons out of my yard!  I briefly considered an electric fence awhile back, but Steve nixed that idea, so when I offered the barrier idea this morning at breakfast, he gave it his approval.  I just have to figure out how to do it cheaply and effectively, which is something I can do; I just have to give it more thought.

But I am still keeping my spading fork by the back door.

Of Cabbages and Steves

A while back I ordered a Harsch fermenting  crock for making sauerkraut and pickles.  It's called a Gartopf, which literally means 'fermenting pot'.  We opted for the German crock because it has a lip around the top of the crock into which you pour water, which keeps outside air out, but still allows the occasional bubble to escape as the contents ferment.


On Monday, my crock arrived, so Tuesday night we made sauerkraut.  Well, it's not that uncomplicated but it wasn't hard.


First I harvested all the green cabbage out of the garden, which was five heads total.  Then I washed,
quartered and cored them, and then Steve weighed out the parts.


Then I shredded them.  And shredded and shredded and shredded.  I discovered that if you split the quarters up roughly in thirds by the leaves' layers, then they're a lot easier to get shredded finely, which this photo doesn't capture.


Into the crock they go.  For every five pounds of cabbage you mix in three tablespoons of pickling salt. We also mixed in caraway seeds, juniper berries, and a bay leaf, per the suggestions.  I had a little over twelve pounds of cabbage, so having Steve and his trusty calculator brain around was handy.


Then the cabbage gets tamped down, and then we placed the weight stones that came with the crock on top of the cabbage.  After that the gutter was filled with water and the lid was placed on top.

Then last night we poured a little over a quarter liter of white wine over the cabbage because the variety of sauerkraut we're making is winekraut.  We're making winekraut because that's the kind that Steve wanted and it's all about The Steve, which is why the cabbage is now bubbling happily, fermenting away in his office.  That, and he has the only air conditioner in the house so it's his responsibility to keep it cool and top off the gutter with water.

And, as he said, he knows how to keep an eye on something that's fermenting.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

AAARRRRGGGHH!!!!!

I was playing bunco with the ladies at a neighbor's house tonight, and on their back porch they had five large plant saucers full of dog food.

I asked Myrna, wow! do you feed a lot of dogs? and she said No, raccoons- that's Dick's thing.

So later I see mama raccoon show up and do you know how many kits she had with her?

Do you have any idea how many kits one raccoon can have when she's fed a steady diet of dog food?

Five.

I hates raccoons.

For some reason, I was really depressed this evening.

Tea for the Tiller Woman

The new thinking on soil is that tilling isn't such a good thing, because it disrupts the soil food web.  Breaking up soil is supposed to be better, and for the most part, I try to keep that in mind. Since yesterday was overcast and in the low seventies, I forked up the back forty (such as it is) for my winter garden.

 The future winter garden, not quite completely dug up.

I've determined that I need a tiller.  Not so much to turn the soil up, because it's like concrete back there.  I doubt seriously that a tiller would have been able to break it up.  Clay really is the very worst soil to with which to work.  There is really no good time to try to spade it up- there are just times that are worse than others. 

Clay clods. Rock hard clay clods.

However, for the purposes of breaking up clods, mixing in greensand and compost and otherwise improving the tilth, I'm just plain going to need a tiller.

Oh good- something else to research and buy.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sometimes All A Guy Needs Is A Rib Dinner

Steve had a birthday recently, and he's usually hard to buy presents for.   He's the kind of guy who's happiest when eating something wonderful, and it only has to be wonderful to him.  While watching one of our favorites on on PBS, Primal Grill with Steven Raichlen, I had a flash of an idea for his birthday: rib barbecuing accessories!  I got the briquette baskets, rib rack, a package of drip pans and a bag of mesquite chips.  Dave and Carl got him a thermometer, which I later installed in the Weber.

The plan was to barbecue the ribs today, so last night while looking around for more rub recipes, I stumbled across AmazingRibs.com, which I spent quite a bit of time exploring.  Not only does Meathead have great information for ribs, but now I want to try his method for steaks and some of his other recipes, particularly the one for Grownup Mustard Sauce.   I'm partial to mustard-based barbecue sauce, and this one sounds really good.

So long story short- I made his Meathead's Memphis Dust, only changing it a little bit, and pretty much followed his barbecuing directions.  Instead of putting the pan and ribs in the middle with two baskets of coals on either side like Raichlen does, we did one pile of coals on one side, with the pan on the other and the ribs above it like Meathead suggested.  We used apple wood from the neighbor's prunings, which I saved for this purpose.  Raichlen says that he cooks ribs at 350 degrees and that if you cook ribs at too low a temperature, they can become mushy.  Meathead likes to cook his long and slow, somewhere between 225 and 250.  We put them in when the thermometer was still reading 500 and then shut the barbecue down almost all the way to slow the fire and lower the temperature.  It remained pretty hot for most of the time that we had the ribs in, so now we're thinking maybe it isn't so accurate.   I'll be honest- I thought the fire was so hot so long that the ribs were going to be tough and dried out.  They weren't.

They were incredibly good.  Smoky, succulent, tender and yummy.  They stood on their own, which was a good thing because we didn't have any barbecue sauce and I didn't feel like making any.  But now that I've had them, I really want to try his other recipes. 

Corn on the cob and a beet salad, made from beets from our garden, and a glass of Steve's beer rounded out the whole meal.  It was quite satisfying.  Quite.

Oh yeah- we have a whole rack of them left over.

I Don't Need a New Dryer After All

It turns out that the buttons weren't set correctly.  Steve fixed it and surmised that my first load of the season, the tea towels, wasn't heavy enough to make it go up.  But it's all better now, which is a load off my mind.  I've too many other things to be doing than trying to fashion a new dryer out of old dryer parts, which was my intention, if it came to that.  So yay!  The landfills are breathing a sigh of relief as well....

Friday, July 9, 2010

A New Look for the Cucumbers

This is my new cucumber trellis, which I made to be used multiple times for multiple plants.  It's actually two separate pieces wired together at the top, to make it easier to take down and store over the winter.  It's kind of tall for cucumbers, but I wanted to be able to use it for beans as well.

It's not very pretty, and doesn't have any rustic charm, but I only had get help with getting it installed.  And as long as it lasts longer than that damn dryer did, I'll be happy with it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I Need A New Clothesline

Remember this happy image?


This is what happens when you put a real load on it:


What a sad little picture.

I'm going to research clotheslines- I have a feeling they last longer.  This dryer was new last summer.

So! How about some ideas for how to re-purpose, reuse, or recycle this thing.

It's Too Hot.....

You know it, and I know it; today was just too hot for underwear.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Good Idea No. 8

This afternoon while out on the deck preparing to start the barbecue, I noticed a honeybee taking a drink from one of the six-packs that I'd watered and moved back out of the direct sun.

I was reminded of what our instructor at the bee keeping class I took had told us: you need to water your bees.  Bees drown very easily, so he had a super shallow fountain that he kept six-packs of moss in- the fountain kept them wet continually by wicking, and the moss allowed the bees to alight and have somewhere to stand while they took a drink. 

It dawned on me that I have an unused bird bath in the back of the yard, and with all this heat the bees and the birds would probably be glad to find some water.  I then remembered that my neighbor Larry has a really nice little natural-looking fountain with a short waterfall in his backyard that the birds love to bathe in.  The birds would be alright because of Larry's water feature, but I still needed to do something for the bees.

So here it is.  The six-pack should stay wet, but will have just enough surface for the bees to land on and walk around on.  If I keep the birdbath filled everyday and change it fairly regularly, that should do for keeping out mosquitoes.


So if you have time and some suitable materials lying around, give the bees a chance to get some water.  It doesn't have to be fancy- it just has to work.  No matter where you are, or whether you keep bees or not, please put something out for them.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer's Finally Here!

Today was the first official day of summer in the Pacific Northwest.  I know calendar-wise it started a couple of weeks ago, but today was the first day of real summer weather, and depending on whose forecast you believe, tomorrow is supposed to be ninety-seven.  It will be a good test of how well the new shades are working, and I'll explain more about them after they've completed their field tests.  We know the pergola and reed fencing on top are working.  Even though they're providing only filtered shade, it's still way, way cooler on the deck with them up there than before.  A quick barefoot test of the deck with filtered shade and the deck with no shade proved that the surface isn't getting nearly as hot as it used to.

I was busy today.  Yesterday I fitted irrigation zone D out with its drip lines and micro sprinkler heads, only to find out that the elbows and tees where the funny pipe is connected leak pretty dramatically.  So I hauled around a hose this morning, which I'll have to do tomorrow morning as well.  I need to get out to the Big Box Store and ask the guys in plumbing what went wrong.  This is the second one of these I've installed, so I'm not sure what the difference is.

Then I cooked Steve's breakfast: an omelette, with the first carrot out of our yard.

Then I installed the second of the shades and rigged it.  More on that later, as mentioned.

Then I retrieved the three and a half quarts of macerating raspberries out of the fridge and made and canned fourteen half-pints of raspberry jam.  We were supposed to go berry picking with the neighbors on Monday, but all I could think of was how hot it was going to get and how I had several heat-fighting projects to make and build (two exterior shades, the AC box, and the rest of the irrigation), so we begged off.  Bless their hearts, Larry and Kathy picked raspberries for me! So I gave them a jar of jam when I returned their bowl, which was the least I could do.  Come to think of it, it was the most I could do, too.

Then it was time to get dinner together, which we try to eat at three.  I won't say what it was because it will make me hungry all over again.

Then at long last, I also managed to get the platform built for Steve's office air conditioner at the end of the day.  The manufacturer hadn't counted on our windows being so high, consequently the hose is too short, so the only thing to do to make the hose fit the window is raise the unit.  The box I built sure isn't pretty, but the idea was to get it sturdy enough not to fall apart with the vibration of the unit and use whatever I had to hand in the construction.   Bricolage, as the French say.  The glue is drying on it now and tomorrow morning I'll sand the edges and we'll get his AC installed and working.

 So yeah- busy day.  Somewhere in there I hung out a load of kitchen laundry, which still makes me smile.  And get a picture of the first pumpkin, which is still quite a baby.  I've never grown pumpkins before (or carrots, or cabbage, or a lot of things, for that matter) so this will be a long summer waiting for it to ripen.  How exciting to think of Autumn already.  I realize it's a little crazy, now that we're finally getting some decent weather, and there are tomatoes and eggplants still to ripen (to say nothing of cucumbers, melons, and beans) but the pumpkin reminded me that I need to be planting the fall stuff now.  I'm a little behind on my fall and winter cabbage and kale planting.  Tomorrow. Tomorrow I'll do that.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Garlic Harvest 2010

In a word, it was disappointing.

This is all of it. All six months of watering and taking care of it.  I was all excited pulling out the first nine or so, which are there in the lower right-hand corner.  But that was it for large, blue garlic.  The rest of the harvest pretty much looked like the stuff on the left.  I'm not at all sure how long this will last, but I think it's safe to say that I don't have a year's worth of garlic here.

Here's a comparison so you can see why I was excited at first, and why I was ultimately disappointed.  The stuff on the top of the picture was all I pulled out that was of decent size.  The stuff on the bottom pretty much represents the bulk of the harvest.  The variety I planted was called 'Oregon Blue', and I'm not at all sure why there was such a difference from one part of the planter box to the other.  The stuff that grew huge was by the carrots, but I don't know if there is some companion-planting thing going on or not. I'll have to read and find out.

Next year's garlic will be a variety called 'Music' (provided I can get it, of course) and I'll only plant the large cloves, and I'll work more compost into the soil and more greensand too.

And if I thought twirling around twelve times at midnight on a full moon with chicken bones in both hands would help, I'd probably do that, too.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Everyone Should Have Friends Like Dave and Carl or At Least House Elves

I mentioned earlier that my friends Dave and Carl were here, helping me get some things done around the house.

Let's see- they:
  1. Fixed Steve's grandmother's clock within five minutes of arrival at the house, which he (Steve) had broken within five minutes of me finally unpacking it and getting it hung on the wall several weeks ago
  2. Cleaned the kitchen after every meal
  3. Painted my bedroom
  4. Bought me a bottle of Old Overholt rye
  5. Bought themselves a bottle of scotch, which means they didn't drink all my Johnny Walker, not that they weren't welcome to. I would have had a good excuse to buy another one.  (They said they didn't want to get used to the good stuff)
  6. Bought 'themselves' a bottle of Speyburn single malt scotch, which they conveniently left with the rest of my liquor.  Susan, if you're reading this, I can now offer you some Speyburn, because now it is mine to offer
  7. Weeded my flower bed, which was a hot mess
  8. Finished painting the first coat of paint on the pergola
  9. Helped Steve and me get the reed fencing installed on the top of the pergola (which made a huge difference in the temperature under the pergola
  10. Pulled a shitload of plastic sheeting out of the yard ('member I told you about all the plastic in the yard?)
  11. Moved a lot of soil around, chief of which was Santa Ana's wall
  12. Installed a barrier between where the bark and the patio were going
  13. Helped me install my irrigation- scratch that- I helped Dave install my irrigation
  14. Helped me put down cardboard and helped Steve move and spread five cubic yards of pathway bark
  15. Cleaned the bathroom they were using before they left
  16. Made a scampi dinner and lemon pie one night (and then cleaned up afterward)
  17. Dave found the rest of the sweet gum logs around the base of the tree and neatly stacked them up
  18. Carl found the dirty laundry in our bedroom and sorted, washed, dried, and folded it for me

And as if that wasn't enough, when we got back from taking them to the airport, I found a fat envelope in their bathroom with a very nice thank you note for our hospitality, a few pieces of Dave's late mother's jewelry (not the least of which was a small pair of diamond earrings and a rhinestone P, as her name was Pearl) and a hundred dollar bill to help defray costs! 

Dave and Carl just like to help.  I told them several times that I could not have afforded them if I'd had to pay them, which is true.  And they sincerely hustled to get as much done in the week we had together as they possibly could.  I am so much further on my projects than I would have been without them, and the fact that Steve didn't have to help me with all this went a really long way with him, particularly during World Cup.

So here are the pictures:

The pergola with reed fencing covering it

Painted pergola, late afternoon

 Installing irrigation pipe the next morning

The garden with half of the ordered bark down

I miss my house elves already.