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Thursday, July 26, 2012

The New Neighbor

My garden has been a constant source of  anxiety and struggle this year, maybe more so than any other year.  Recently the moles having been having their way with the garden.  I'm so at my very. wit's. end. that I finally broke down and bought mole traps, but it turns out that summer time is not really the best time to be trapping moles, as they've moved lower because the surface soil is too warm.  The best time to trap moles turns out to be during the the spring before they make more moles, and in the fall, after they've come up from the deep soil from summer, but before they go back to the deep soil in winter. Consequently, Steve hasn't trapped anything yet, and the moles continue to shove strawberries and onions aside.

I thought long and hard about how to get these guys- I even tried the hose-in-the-exhaust-pipe trick that I witnessed my dad use to good effect to kill the gopher that was tearing up the front yard when I was a kid, so I knew how to do it.  But Daddy was working with a fairly short hose, and both the truck and the gopher were in the front yard; I did not have any luck getting the fumes to come out the business end of the hose, possibly because we had three hoses linked together, or maybe there was water blocking it- who knows? So we finally gave up and bought the traps.  This dilemma with the moles has been going on awhile; I mentioned it to one of my salesmen last week and he told me about a molecat, but it sounded like something you don't want to point at yourself (or your kids, no matter how tempted you might be), so I didn't spring for them.  I'm beginning to wish I did- they might work better than an old-fashioned scissor trap.  I might run a test of both this autumn, but they are, no lie, ten times the cost of the trap, so we'll see.

Anyway, evidently, someone else besides the moles has moved in. This evening I was moving a running hose around the stone fruit trees at the back of the yard and discovered this:

Either we have a new neighbor or my yard has a new vagina.
My money's on a new neighbor. The bad kind.
And a brazilian is not going to make this look any better.

It's by the compost pile, and there's a variety of detritus that whatever it is has pulled into its den, but closer inspection indicates that the trash in the hole is not coming from my compost pile.  They appear to be empty bee combs, and the only varmints that I know of that raid bee hives besides bears are skunks, because skunks eat sleeping bees.  If ever there was an evening I wished I had Tamar Haspel's Varmintcam, this evening was it.  I toyed briefly with the idea of running the hose into the hole, but thought the better of it if it did turn out to be a skunk.  I mean, if it left its den and came out, then what would I do?  I've gone after raccoons with the spading fork, but raccoons don't have quite the brilliant defense mechanism that skunks do. And while I haven't been skunked personally, I've washed a dog who was, and that is the closest I want to get to a skunk again. Ever.

So instead of putting money into the chicken run this coming month which I really need and want to do, I'm going to have a Varmint Guy come out and take care of it.  I could probably live with the moles a little longer, and if it comes right down to it, I can probably wait long enough to get my money's worth out of the traps, which probably means sometime this fall.

But the new neighbor has got to go.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Wild Kingdom

We had our own Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom in the back yard this evening (probably everyone has one of these from time to time, but this is my blog and I'm going to tell you about it anyway).

House finches. Pic from here
So we have these house finches that show up every evening in the summer.  They always seem to find something to their liking; the first year it was the seeds on the french sorrel that I let go to seed, last year it was the basil and anise hyssop that I let go to seed, this summer it's the radishes that I let go to seed (are we seeing a pattern here?).  They are fun to watch; the other evening I watched a finch cock land on a radish and ride it down to the ground like an elevator.

They showed up this evening as usual. In fact, it seemed a lot of them showed up and I was beginning to worry about things like the new seed beds I've just planted.  I've reason to worry; evidently house finches are bad news.  All of a sudden one of the cocks flew at the sliding glass door and hit it which surprised me, because they don't really come near the house, but the reason became apparent seconds later a much larger bird hit it.  I didn't see the details too well other than it was a lot bigger than the finch, but Steve exclaimed "raptor!" The house finches disappeared to a bird, and moments later the raptor alighted on the top of the cucumber trellis.  I tried to get a picture of him but I wasn't fast enough.

I wish I could tell you what he was but the piece of shit Stokes Guide Western Region did not have this particular raptor in it. (They had a lot of other raptors whose habitation maps showed that they live in the southeastern portion of the country, which last time I checked, was not part of the Western Region.  If anybody's interested, I would love a Roger Tory Peterson bird guide for the western region for my birthday- now there's a reference!)  All I can tell you is that he was beautiful, and probably a male because it was he was so beautiful.  Then he flew into the only trees mature trees that we have in the yard, which, as it happens, are right where I plan to build the hen yard.

Which only doubles my conviction that I have to put some sort of roof and wire cover over the yard, now that I know there are raptors in the neighborhood.  Outside of the bald eagles that I've seen hovering over the Willamette, which is only yards away from us, and other high altitude raptors that show up from time to time, this is the first I've seen in the neighborhood proper, and certainly the first I've seen in the yard itself.

I only wish he was a little bit bigger, and the raccoons that woke me up last night chattering to each other were a lot smaller.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

200 Pound Raccoon

So we're watching a thing on Nature on PBS on bears in Alaska, and a wildlife specialist just described a black bear in Anchorage as a "200 pound raccoon."


Alaska is sooooo off my map now.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Homesteading Update 16 July 2012

This is going to be a whirlwind update because it's bedtime and I'm getting cranky.  All set?

Hang on!

The brassica seedlings that were nearly decimated by cabbage moth larvae have recovered and are ready to be transplanted (and covered in Agribon).

This was the spud bed on June 18.

This is the spud bed on July 15, nearly a month later.  If it doesn't look like much, bear in mind I've been hilling up.  The first of the potatoes are nearly ready.

The next potatoes are already coming on. Some are more volunteers.  One of those in there was a German Butterball from last year that spent the entire year in the fridge.  I figured "What the heck!" and it grew.

The lettuces were bolting, so I harvested and packaged up what I could in the fridge.  But that left a lot of bolted lettuce, which I didn't want to waste.  So I treated it like greens and cooked it up with pasta.  The rest of the lettuce that was too messy to eat was tossed into the compost pile.

It was better than decent, but I like kale better.  I'd still do this again though.

I harvested all the onions that I transplanted this spring.  These were all volunteers from onions that had gone to seed in the same bed.  I bent down their stalks about a week ago and after a week in the sun they were ready to pull.  They'll finish curing in the living room.  They are keeping the garlic that's curing in the living room company.  They are also precluding me from having company.

We got the bird netting up on the boysenberries. I think in this picture you can kind of see what I mean when I say they are covered in berries, which are starting to ripen.  We harvested the center berry out of several clusters, but when the clusters all ripen at the same time, are we going to be busy! We're freezing them.

The big bed will hold most of my winter stuff, but I'm trialing a couple of tomatoes in there, plus the cukes and Fortex french filet beans are in there.  Winter stuff: onions, parsnips, carrots, White Siberian kale, Red Siberian kale, and the January King cabbage seedlings.  Starting tomorrow, I'll plant more carrots, rutabagas, and beets.  Once I pull the beans off I'll plant peas.

This is Floriani Red Flint corn, which is an heirloom variety.  It is growing very unevenly and I can't imagine why.  It will shortly get beans and pumpkins in it, and I just hope they'll have enough time to do something.

That's it!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Eating the Natives

Last year I was completely bummed about losing my first and only hazelnuts and my big cabbage to what I believed to be one of the Scrubb jays in the yard.

I noticed that this year again, out of the three hazelnuts that I planted, only the Italian hazelnut, the Tonda di Giffona, has a couple of nuts on it.  My compost pile is right next to it, so I think it's safe for the time being as it's somewhat camouflaged by straw.  But one of the native filberts in the front yard (I'm lucky enough to have four native filberts in my yard) has a bunch of filberts on it, and this is the first time any of the natives has had nuts on them.  So I got smart this year, and this evening I covered it in bird netting.

I also got smart about my January King cabbage this year, which is turning out to be another colossal cabbage.  It's covered in chicken wire.

There are people that eat green almonds and enjoy them, and something squirrels? jays? seem to enjoy them green, so I may try these two that came off while I was trying to cover it.

I think that some research into hazelnut and filbert cultivation may be a good idea.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Latest Tool in my Arsenal

Planting by the moon is an old practice that may have more scientific merit than my more cynical readers would care to give credit.  Some people swear by it, for the simple reason that it works for them.  Scientists theorize its success is due to the effect that the waxing and waning moon has on the earth, or more accurately, the effect the waxing and waning moon has on the water in the earth.  We all know that tides are affected by the moon, but it turns out that the water in soil is also affected by the phases of the moon.  Consequently, some days are better for planting above ground crops, and some days are better for planting below ground crops.  Some days are not good for planting at all; those can be better for general farm chores like weeding or brush killing.  There are even days that are better than others for setting posts in the ground!

I can't tell you what prompted me to try planting by the moon, but the happy side effect of the practice is that I'm getting a ton done by focusing on doing the chore that the day is good for, and not worrying about the stuff that's not getting done.  Between the information I picked up on winter gardening at the MEN Fair in Puyallup and the planting by the moon guides in the Farmers Almanac, I have most of my winter garden planted already.  The other happy by-product, and I can't stress how important this one is, is that the pressure to get everything done at once is off. What a load off my mind.  I would really like to get the rest of the winter root crops and pumpkins and dry bean seeds into the ground, but this weekend is not a good one for planting things.    Which is great!  I really need to get working on finishing up the chicken coop by building the nest box and feeders, and getting the new hen yard built.  This Saturday and Sunday being a crappy weekend for planting basically makes the decision for me to work on Hensdeep and the yard instead. I'll have two solid days to devote to it, and other than watering it, I won't give the garden another thought.  Really takes the pressure off.

Whether or not it really works, planting by the moon has become a really easy way for me to manage getting stuff done even though I'm busier this year than I was this time last year.  I like it so much that I'm going to start keeping the information in a new box to the right there called This Month's Chores by the Moon.  Notice I didn't say 'by the Moonlight'.  I don't need you out there sacrificing virgins or throwing clams to the sun.  It's just a tool; not a belief system.

Hope you like it.