Nesting Instinct

The days bend shorter, the dahlias put on a show (my friend Barbara and I make a pilgrimage to the Dahlia Festival each September, just to fill ourselves with the glory of the changing season),(my fingers just typed “flory,” and I almost left it there as a happy portmanteau word for the glory of flowers each autumn),

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The flory of the Swan Island Dahlia Festival

and it’s this time of year again when vegetables are rolling in from the garden at a pace faster than they can be consumed. The canners are boiling in the kitchen where the temperature is around 100 degrees, and something inside a woman wants to start putting things by for winter.

It’s apple-picking and saucing time:

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It’s pickling time, too, and we have

Dilly Beans on their shelf,

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Bread and Butter Pickles,

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Mexican style hot carrot pickles,

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and pickled eggs in a giant bottle.16aug_eggs2_cr_sm

The tomatoes in excess of any possible fresh

consumption are jarred and stored in their ranks,

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and there are still more to be eaten, so many we have tomato sores in our mouths, but we keep on adding them to salads and plates, and making tomato sandwiches and tomato gravy and fried tomatoes. And there are peppers, too, waiting for their pickling piper to show up.

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These are a pretty little pepper called Biquinho, from Brazil, and just coming ripe now. They are intended for pickling, to be used in salads. We first found them at a Brazilian restaurant in Portland where they are part of the “market table” salad bar. Pretty soon we will have to bring them into the greenhouse if they are to finish their season.

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Deeper in the garden, the frost isn’t yet on the pumpkins, but they are ready for it. Ours are Rouge vif d’Etampes. It’s a beautiful French heirloom, once common in the markets there. It deserves to be kept in gardens. It grows easily and large, is sweet inside and beautiful outside.

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I can’t stop taking pictures of them!

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The summer squash are at last beginning to fail while the winter ones are ready for taking. The one below is Thelma Sanders’ Sweet Potato Acorn squash. It’s much like the more familiar dark-skinned acorns (we called those Danish Squash in our house when we were kids). As we know to be the case in other things, the skin color makes no difference. The meat inside is golden and sweet.

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The hay is in the barn, so that culinary detail is taken care of.

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Pears are still hanging on, waiting for their moment. These are Comice:

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Oh, and…

murder1_cr_sm there was an unfortunate day for some chickens. They are now resting peacefully in the freezer. They are not fryers but stewing hens waiting for their day in the winter pot. Chicken butchering day is also custard dessert day for us. Old hens still have a supply of egg yolks inside, and it would be a terrible thing to waste them.

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Having a satisfied feeling about the larder now, I feel it’s time to settle in for an evening of knitting, and to finish up a nice sweater project.

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The nest is feathered and it’s time to sigh and be content.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on September 26, 2016 at 7:51 am  Comments (6)  

Tansy Dance, Pasture Parties, and Br’er Rabbit

We are just back from two wonderful weeks in Italy (sunshine, food, seashores, food, music, food, art, food…) with a group from Portland’s All Classical radio. Casting a loving eye over our little farm, I immediately espied an infestation of Tansy Ragwort. Ugh. I do realize it must have been there before we left, but until it raises its bright, happy, bad-smelling flowers, you can miss it in a pasture.

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Pretty, isn’t it? It’s an invader, though, and can kill livestock in grazing fields. Tansy ragwort (Senecio jacobaea or Jacobaea vulgaris) is native to western Europe, arriving here in the 1920s. By the 1950s it was a terrible scourge, killing thousands of livestock animals who fed on contaminated hay. Pasture lands across the west were golden with its late summer blooms.

Time out for terminology: Senecio jacobaea, commonly called tansy ragwort (or just ragwort, or ragweed, or stinking ragweed, or stinking nanny/ninny/willy, staggerwort, staggerweed, or stammerwort, dog standard, cankerwort, mare’s fart, cushag, benweed, bunweed, bundweed, beaweed, bowlocks, curly doddies, or curly head, kettledock,  slavewort, fizz-gig,  felonweed, stanerwort, or yellow perils)

Illustration Senecio jacobaea.jpg (This image is in the public domain because the copyrights of the original work of art have expired. It is a reproduction of a painting by the Swedish botanist C. A. M. Lindman (1856–1928), taken from his book(s) Bilder ur Nordens Flora (first edition published 1901–1905, supplemented edition 1917–1926?).

is not the same weed as Tanacetum vulgare, Common Tansy,  or bitter buttons, cow bitter, golden buttons…

 This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923. It is a reproduction of a painting by Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1840–1925)Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz

which is, all on its own, a fairly noxious, invasive plant from mainland Europe. This one has historically had some medicinal and culinary applications. It is still listed by the United States Pharmacopeia as a treatment for fevers, feverish colds, and jaundice, and has been used as an insect repellent. Tuck it round you in your coffin to ward off worms.

That may be about enough on the distinctions of tansies, but you can clearly see the problems with naming. Look for the raggedy leaves to spot ragwort.

Beginning in the 1960s Senecio jacobaea was greatly controlled through the introduction of insect predators: the cinnabar moth, the tansy ragwort flea beetle, and a seed head fly. Unlike so many well-meant introductions of species intended to control others, this one seemed to work, and not to have unforeseen negative consequences. Farmers and university scientists believed tansy ragwort had been all but annihilated.

But now, the climate has changed. We’ve had some weather recently that pleases the tansy ragwort, and is not so salutary for the cinnabar moth and her friends. The clever, patient tansy ragwort has taken the opportunity to surge into prominence again. It’s interesting that while horses and cattle fall to the toxins in tansy ragwort, sheep are unaffected. Our sheep could safely graze in an invaded field. But, though sheep have been suggested as a biological control for ragwort (Journal of Range Management), I have noticed that if there are alternatives, the sheep disdain it. So I was out there yesterday lopping and bagging flower heads and pulling the stems from the ground. The idea is to get it before it does this:

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While I was cutting and pulling and sweating, I noticed the resident gophers have been partying again. I see this mostly in spring when they turn up all kinds of pottery and glassware in their mounds, signs, I believe, of their tea times and other imbibings underground. I imagine them celebrating their own waking to the season and their lively romantic carryings-on.

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Sometimes I am surprised at remnants of what must have once been treasured pieces of fineware. It seems gophers are none too careful with their belongings.

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But yesterday I truly blinked at what came up from below: a substantial length of plumbing pipe and joint ejected from the household to the surface, along with a piece of broken window glass.

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What on earth, if you’ll pardon the phrase, can be going on down there?

Having filled my quota of feed sacks of ragwort heads, I thought it was time to gather some blackberries in the afternoon. They’re just coming on here, with those big stem-end first berries scenting the summer air.

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It’s another nasty plant, really, the Himalayan blackberry. “Invasive and difficult to control,” say the university websites. That does not describe their savage attitude toward passersby. But I believe that if your landscape is overtaken by a fruit-bearing invader, you might as well make the best of it. I rummaged around and found my milk jug with the string attached, and headed out to the sticker brush.

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Do you remember the story of B’rer Rabbit and the Wonderful Tar Baby?  Do you remember how the worst, the very worst thing he begged not to happen to him when Br’er Fox caught him one day was to be thrown into that briar patch? “Please!” he begged. “Do whatever you want to me, hang me, skin me, cook me, pull off my legs and ears, but please don’t throw me in that briar patch!” So, being that foxes and rabbits are always fussing with each other (in the 1888 Charles C. Jones, Jr. book Negro Myths from the Georgia Coast Told in the Vernacular, it is a Wolf, but the relationship is constant), Br’er Fox did just that thing. He threw that rabbit right into that briar patch. Where, it turned out, Br’er Rabbit was most happily at home because that was where he was bred and born, right in those sticker bushes.

I remind us of this tale only because, I might say, not everyone is comfortable when they end up tossed into the briar patch. Picking berries I made a small misstep, and the branches beneath me weren’t there, and I tumbled right into Br’er Rabbit’s house, and I did not like it one bit. There is nothing to do but save the bucket of berries as you are going down, and then prickle yourself out as carefully as you can.

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I wish I’d been that rabbit.

 

 

 

Published in: on August 8, 2016 at 12:43 pm  Comments (4)  

A Winter Day in the Greenhouse

14dec_treelights_cr_smChristmas mail has made it clear to me I am a very bad blogger. “We miss your blog.” “No updates on your blog.” “So sorry you’ve stopped blogging.” OK. Truth is, I haven’t stopped blogging. I just haven’t done it lately. (And I’ve blogged at least as often as I hear from my Christmas correspondents.)

It seemed after a while that the farm things must be getting a little boring to you, dear readers. After all, every year the same plants grow, or don’t. The animal procreate, or don’t. The rain falls, or sometimes doesn’t, and we complain either way.

All right: Here is what I am doing today: I am trimming up the over-wintering geraniums in the greenhouse.

The greenhouse turns out to have been useful for a number of things. Last fall (a year ago), I moved a number of my zonal geraniums into the greenhouse to hold them over. I usually start them from seed in the spring, but I thought I’d see how they did inside. I remember my mother wintering hers over in the garage with little light and hardly any water, so I thought the glassed-in beds would be good for this. It was:

15jan04_geraniums_sm They got a little out of hand. And I didn’t, actually, get them planted out into the garden in the spring. So we have had a forest of happy geraniums in the greenhouse, though there was room for other things until summer advanced and we noticed they had fairly taken over the world.

It was nice in there in the spring and summer with the blooms, the scent of geraniums, and the everlasting nosegay. In April we had a bottle lamb from the sheep flock, one whose mother did her best but died when the lamb was a bare 3 weeks old. So Folly, as we called her since she was born on April 1, moved into the greenhouse where it was more convenient for us to meet her feeding schedule.

14apr_greenhousefolly1_cr_smShe enjoyed the geraniums, too. Folly has since then returned to being a sheep and lives with the other ewes.

In summer we had another blessed event, one we would have avoided if we could’ve. But when you live in the country, Providence brings you cats, and it happened that She brought us both a feral tom and a sweet, fertile queen at the same time. In a longer story than I will tell here, Gollum the tom, is no longer with us. But he left a little bit of himself behind. That’s Gollum’s Precious and her 4 grey-striped kittens.

14jul_kittens1_cr_sm We found a good home for 2 of them, and 2 have stayed with us. For a short time, while their mother was recovering from her female surgery, they all  took up residence in the greenhouse, which had been vacated by Folly, and where they learned essential gardening skills.

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So the greenhouse has been successful for animal husbandry as well as botanical experiments. But really, really, those geraniums need to be taken in hand. Hard as it is to whack something so thriving, if we intend any use of the greenhouse in the spring, we have to do it. So here I am today, whacking:

15jan04_geraniums3_smThe mask is for the clouds (clouds!) of old pollen falling from the dried blooms.

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There are benefits to this exercise: I’ll recover planting space, the geraniums will be, I hope, in splendid condition for planting out in the spring when they will have put on new growth to their now compact limbs, and: I find things! (I knew that trowel was in there someplace!)

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It’s raining outside, and I could complain about that, but this is nice way to spend a winter afternoon in the garden. I once had a university professor who said, in regard to plants, “You have to hurt them to make them thrive. Cut them back!”

Published in: on January 4, 2015 at 4:12 pm  Comments (7)  

Gone in a Gust

13oct_fallcolor_smUsually, it is a gentle slide through September to the chills of October. A bit of briskness in the mornings, an evening when you want the warmth of sweater sleeves, the scent of leaves decaying at the margins of the driveway, and you become aware the season is drifting away from summer into autumn. But this year, on the very day of the Equinox, as if a switch were thrown, September slammed the door on late summer and flung itself into early fall. A friend sent a note saying the first windstorm left two trees down across their driveway. Smoke hangs over the woods and pastures as woodcutters begin to burn their slash piles. Mud lies in the track through the woods.

But, true to the nature of the season, we are just now in a span of gorgeous autumn days with early chill and afternoon sun, and I have to say, as much as I love September, I might love October more. The harvest festivals that come now are a notation in the seasonal round, marking this as the time of plenty when the summer crops are in storage and the autumn ones are about to fill our baskets and barrels. As I write this, a pan on the stove is simmering with pears in wine, and the scent of cloves is drifting through the house. I’ve just dug and brought in most of the geraniums from the garden. We haven’t had anything but a touch of frost yet, but a real one isn’t far away. I’m digging some things out, and putting others in: some roses I started from cuttings last spring, some Berberis I rescued from the “dead and dying” bin at one of the nurseries and that seem to have recovered from their trauma, some tulips for next year’s bloom.

It’s been a helluva year for Chanterelles in the woods. We’ve put them up in the freezer (sautéd in butter with some garlic, then frozen in 1-cup portions for future convenience) (Is it sautéd or sautéed, in English? Or sauté-ed? ). We’ve dried them, for use in stews. We’ve used them fresh in omelets, spaghettis, on toast, with rice, in a scramble, on pork chops, with chicken, with a rabbit… We’ve given them away up and down the road, and in town. It is the Year of the Chanterelle around here. The bag, of course, is the point of it all, but it’s the looking-for that is the very best, that thrashing and clambering into the woods, falling over logs and sliding down banks, the eye peeled for that flash of gold in the duff. 

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Gold has always led men and women into folly, and chanterelling in the woods is no less wild and unseemly in its way than the quest for yellow metal in the hills.

Just writing of it, just writing, starts the bell ringing in my chest, and I grab up my bag and head again into the firs and maples and salal.

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I’m back now, and settled down.  I found a few to put in the sack.

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Other harvests: we have late apples now and pears, potatoes curing on a rack, still some eggplants in the garden, green tomatoes now giving permission to take them for green tomato gravy, red cabbages hoping (I suppose) to become our traditional autumn red cabbage dish (vinegar, molasses, brown sugar, apples, onions, smoked pork of some variety, bit of salt, coarsely shredded red cabbage, and let it cook until it is good).

Did I mention apples? Sometimes we share.

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A thread of geese has just skeined overhead, gabbling and arguing as they go.

You ought to see the load of berries on the hawthorns in the forest.

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There is the other thing that makes October a fine month. It’s a month when the veil begins to thin between this world and another one, the one that makes our hair stand up a little on a dark night. By the end of the month, we will be looking over our shoulders when we go into the woods because, it seems… didn’t I just feel something there, behind me?

Ooo-ooo-ooo!

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Maybe it isn’t too early for my hair to shift a little.

OK, now. Just one more image of my most recent pass-time. I can’t help it. It’s gold.

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Published in: on October 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm  Comments (10)  

In Which We Update Many Unrelated Things

This post is a miscellany. And how time does fly! I promised to be more diligent here, and haven’t lived up to my word.

Blowin' in the wind

Hay is just in. We admire the loft and barn floor full of bales, but in the run-up to the job, frankly, I always feel a little nauseated. Every time, it’s a juggling act for the date as you watch for weather and wait for the call from the baling man. And then begins my major sustained physical effort of the year. It is to be expected that when the call comes, the weather will be hot. It had better be, since the hay would spoil in the field if it weren’t good haying weather, but the tax on the aging body is increased by some predictable ratio of effort to temperature.

There are pleasures in haying: the world smells wonderful. The scene is beautiful with either flowing windrows of raked grass or beaded lines of finished bales strewn across the fields. The afternoon or morning sun casts patterns of shadow over the landscape. The sound of field machinery is on the air, intermittent as tractors run over a hill and out of range, and then back again, or a baler stops for adjustment, or the crew just stops, for water or lunch. Hawks balance on the wing over shorn fields, looking for that now-exposed rodent who only yesterday sheltered in the stems. Crows stalk back and forth across the acres, picking at whatever can be found in the newly revealed world of cuttings. Haying time is beautiful.

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Haying time is filled with challenges, too. Last year our clutch failed as we labored uphill in the evening with our trailer load of bales. This year, we suffered a flat tire on the trailer when it was loaded with two tons of hay. This year we found the trailer wiring ripped apart in crossing a field, and made repairs before hitting the road for home. This year the pulley belt on the hay elevator required loving attention before it consented to drive the chain and raise the bales. This year we mired the pick-up in the mud where a spring rises in the pasture, and spent 45 minutes or so digging it out and shoving boards beneath the wheels. It seems it’s the normal thing in farm work, to lose time to trips for parts or tools, to break-downs, and repairs. The halt to the music of work and progress is always anticipated, though unknown until its moment.

But we got it in. It’s like appreciating a pantry full of jars of peaches, when we look at the barn loft full of sweet-smelling, square-baled grass. And I admit to some self admiration when I reflect: One more year. I can still do it.

This year, last spring, we rolled out the old potato barrel from storage. I’m not sure why we put it away. It’s given us loads of potatoes in the past. Here it is on planting day, back in April:

The potato barrel

This is a food-grade barrel. You don’t want to do this with a chemical barrel, so shop well. Sometimes you can get such things from bakeries or food-preparation companies, or restaurants. Or you can find them at container re-sale outfits.

We put in a good bed of rotting hay and manure from the sheep pens. See the worm? Earthworms are good news!

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… and then a layer of seed potatoes:

Seed spuds going in

to be lovingly covered with more good compost. “Compost” of course is the polite word for rotted barnyard manures and bedding, as well as household scraps and garden waste. If you don’t have a ready source of sheep bedding and rabbit pellets, you can make excellent compost from your kitchen. As the potato plants grow, we add more bedding material, carefully arranging it among the emerging stems and leaves, as if we were heaping soil along the rows in a conventional potato bed. We keep doing that until the barrel is heavy with soils and growing plants. I like to use small, whole potatoes with several eyes for seed instead of cutting up larger ones. It saves having to treat the cut surfaces against rots and infections. The skins of the little potatoes do a good job all by themselves. And, since you buy seed potatoes by weight, it’s my theory that you get more eyes (sprouts) for the weight this way.

In time, the growing potatoes push themselves out through the holes in the barrel, and set flowers…

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and eventually, when the plants die back, we will tip the barrel over and retrieve our potatoes. We’re not quite there yet. Here is the barrel last week:

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It seems to be doing well. Anybody with space for a 55-gallon barrel can grow a long row of potatoes this way.

Look who stopped by for a look-see while I was out feeding one morning:

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We each stood still and looked at the other for quite a while. Then the little cottontail decided that if she couldn’t see me, I couldn’t see her, either.

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Last fall I put in bulbs of the beautiful Angelique tulips. I had quite a drift of them years ago when we lived in Portland. Last fall I saw some in the bulbs bins and suddenly remembered how much I had enjoyed them. Seems I am not alone. Look at this stunning pale green spider making a home in the bloom. We chased each other around and around a few times before I could get a good photo; the spider must have been wondering what that lumbering giant had in mind with its one eye flashing a red light every now and then.

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By now, of course, in July, the tulips have passed on. The seed pod of the Angelique is beautiful all on its own, though:

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One of the hens has gone broody. All she wants to do is sit on the nest. So I’ve marked the eggs she’s collecting and will let her have her little family if she wishes. You can see these are not all the eggs of one hen. As the offspring of tulip seeds, these chicks will be a mix of the characteristics of their parents. The likely father of this brood is a Maran rooster. In the nest I see Maran eggs, Americana eggs, and Barred Plymouth Rock eggs. Chickens are without prejudice. She will accept any chick that emerges as her own.  How much easier to let her bring them up than to raise a batch of chicks under lights in the attic, move them out to the barn when they grow too big and stinky for indoors, and then grow them to a suitable age and finally let them loose with the rest of the flock. After all, chickens know how to raise chicks!

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July is seeping into August now. It’s dry here, and hot. I remember when summers lasted forever, and the hot days were of no real bother. I remember when the chief concern of summer was skinned knees. Just now I look down at the scab on a shin I barked against a gate yesterday, and I think, very little changes as the seasons unroll in order. Very little changes, but it’s all new again every time.

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Published in: on July 28, 2013 at 12:11 pm  Comments (4)  

Things To Be Done in Autumn

Good readers: Ahead of this post, let me say I am not very happy with the new WordPress image handling routine, and it’s been a struggle to get these into the post and oriented properly and not all skewed in aspect. If, when you load the page, the images on your monitor are tiny, tiny and stretched out, it seems that if you refresh the screen (F5 on a PC), they sort themselves and appear properly. I think if you click on the individual images, they will appear as well, but that seems like a bother and takes them out of context. Maybe everything will look good to you and you won’t have to do anything at all.

And so, we begin:

It’s Christmas tree time in these hills. The sky has been a-buzz with the sound of helicopters transporting cut trees to trucks, and the roads are heavy with the trucks moving trees to their destinations.

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It starts in early October when the trees are going overseas, and continues into November, for the domestic market. Instantly after Thanksgiving dinner is off the tables, every open corner space becomes a Christmas tree lot.

In the orchard, it’s the best time. If there is any sound better than the snap! of an apple stem twisted from its branch on a fall day, then it’s the sound of the apple dropping into the bucket. The air smells like apples and leaves on the ground. My fingers are cold and damp, and the skins of the apples squeak when I handle them.

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This little tree of Liberties filled 3 wheelbarrows. It never seems to take a year off. They’re tart and firm, and they make a wonderful cider.

While I pick, the ewes are ever-hopeful, ever-watchful. They have a pretty good idea treats are likely to come over the fence in their direction.

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And they’re not the only ones hoping to share in the apple crop. I haven’t caught them at it, but here is the evidence of Visitors in the orchard:

.12nov_cidering5_smI’m thinking it’s the little brown rabbit I see hopping for cover when I pass through to feed the the llamas. I really can’t say I mind. Who can begrudge a little rabbit her taste of apple in the fall? But back to work … Here’s the last load on its way through the gate (see them there, down the path, in the wheelbarrow) …

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… to sorting before washing …

Sorting

… then loading into the crusher …

12nov_cidering2 … and the crushed result …12nov_cidering_crush_cr_sm

… ready for pressing: 12nov_cidering8_cr_sm

and then, oh! joy!

12nov_cidering7_sm Nothing sweeter!

That’s cidering. We freeze it now and have the freshest-tasting varietal cider all year.

Fall is spider time in the woods and field. 12nov_woodsspider_sm It’s a good time to get a faceful of web as you pass. But they’re beautiful on their houses of silk. This one,

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clinging to grass and apples, is so pregnant she looks about to burst. I set her aside to safety. Spiders are beneficial in the landscape. Still and all, I like them out there, not inside with me.

Fall is time to divide dahlias in the garden. Here’s a nice hand, the offspring of the one, roundish one you can see beneath them. Dahlias can be a little expensive to buy in quantity. With patience, you can start with a single tuber and finish the season with… let’s see… more. I’ll plant them out again next spring.

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Speaking of plant propagation, does anyone remember the rosemary cuttings I set last fall, in  in post Make More Plants? They were tiny little sticks with a couple of leaves on top. Here they are now, ready to go into the garden:

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Of two dozen cuttings, I got 23 to strike. I don’t know what I did wrong on the other one.

Aside from that, it’s time to make holiday wreaths again. Here is my pile of stuff, ready for the genius of the season to arrive. They’ll look better in a week or so.

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For a review of my wreath-making routine, here is an older post on the subject: Wreathery.

I always do enjoy this time of year when there’s not much to do. They say.

Published in: on December 2, 2012 at 4:13 pm  Comments (2)  

(Waves hand) Yes! I’m Here!

It has been made clear to me that I am a very bad blogger lately. Someone pointed out it was January when I last posted. Someone else actually asked me whether I am still alive!

I appreciate the concern. I am not yet pushing up late summer stubble.

In the meantime, spring has come and gone. Summer has come and is just now used up. Indeed, the faint signs of a change of season are here: mist in the mornings, fruit on the trees. Partly, you see, the things that happen on a farm and in the woods each season are pretty much the same things that happened the last round. I imagined everyone might have been tired of hearing about them. But when people begin asking if I’m still quick, it’s a good time to check in even if it means repeating myself.

You’ll be inquiring about the house project. It is so very, very close to completion.We received a nice write-up in the  PGE Customer News e-letter: Green dream farmhouse: 8 ideas. Many, many names of men and women who have worked on the house are inscribed onto the roof beam in the attic.

Everyone who has worked on the house has signed the roof beam in the attic.

When I look back at the lay-out of our early design work, I’m impressed at how much the house looks like our first vision of it. Here, for instance, is the SketchUp drawing of the kitchen as we imagined it then.

Kitchen plan

And here is much the same view, with workman mess still in the way (but you can get the idea):

Join us for breakfast at the kitchen counter!

We look with joy at the possibility we’ll be able to use the greenhouse this year. The construction scaffold came down a couple of weeks ago, the painters finished working inside it last week, the final windows are to be installed next week, the 10-foot  Big Ass Fan  is installed and running,

No kidding, it’s called a Big Ass Fan

and the soil is ready to be raked into place. This first time we will be experimenting. First plants in: basil. Let’s see how long we can extend its season. I will be starting some seeds here this weekend, I think: lettuces, cilantro, miner’s lettuce. I’d like to try some late-started broccoli and cauliflower, and Swiss chard. We’ll move some tender perennials inside for over-wintering. We’re hoping it can be a real season stretcher and that we’ll be eating vegetables from it long after the outdoor garden has given up. Besides that, this greenhouse will warm the house in winter. We have no conventional furnace.

Out in the garden, I’ve made some progress. The landscaping is still pitiful, showing all the signs of construction and wreckage. When winter comes it will be discouraging again, but by summer’s end this year, parts of it almost looked like a garden.

The terraces: a beginning

The blocks of stone you see in the photo above will become steps from the first terrace to the next. A great many things are held in pots this year: the herb garden, the dahlias, shrubs that need siting and perennial starts from seed or cuttings. It’s all a process, and I  imagine the garden will never be finished, and every year I will feel despair as to its progress and condition.

The cat over there in the walkway is not dead. She just has an odd sense of what a pillow should be.

Pillow time

It’s seed-taking time already. These marigolds are ready to have seeds plucked out for next spring’s sowing. They’re the tiny Signet type that bloom in clouds of deep and bright oranges: easy to start from seed, a favorite of the springtime flush of slugs here. Though losses to slugs were heavy early on, the plants rallied when drier weather came, and now are throwing themselves into reproductive efforts.

Signet marigold seed heads

This one, below, is Nicotiana. I’m relying on them to self-sow. Oh…, well, maybe I’ll collect a few, too.

In the woods the owls are hooting their autumn signal system from tree to tree. In the night you can hear them, one nearby, hoo-hoo! and then, farther into the dark, hoo-hoo, hoo in answer. Add your own hoo to the conversation and they fall indignantly silent for a few minutes. They’re shedding themselves now, too, of soft gray feathers left in the grass.

Owl

It’s a sign, we’re coming ’round to the changing time of year again. It’s the time of year when, if you want to give yourself a case of the creepies, you walk into the woods at dusk. And listen.

Published in: on September 22, 2012 at 9:50 am  Comments (9)  
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Make More Plants

The simplest truth is, plant stuff wants to grow. Given the least helping hand, most plants will be happy to oblige in making more of themselves.

It’s late summer, and it’s a good time for propagation. Seeds are dropping out of pods all over the place, and can be collected as easily as placing a hand beneath and catching the outfall.  A labelled envelope helps , but otherwise, seed collecting is the simplest, cheapest means of satisfying the urge to “have some of that.”

Of course, not every plant reproduces itself faithfully through seed, and for some plants, growth from seed is a long, slow process. For many plants, propagation by rooted cuttings is a splendid choice. You’ll need to do a little reading to determine whether the holdings you want to increase are suitable for rooting, and what time of year is best for a given plant. But here is how I spent my morning today:

This is a fine, healthy rosemary bush from which I’m taking a cutting. I’d like to create a low hedge of Rosemarinus to help soften the high earth berm between our house and the road. A two year-old rosemary plant in the earth will attain a couple of feet in diameter. It’s evergreen, it blooms in summer, it smells wonderful, and it pleases bees. But it’s slow to cultivate by seed. Fortunately, rosemary is not difficult to root from cuttings. Some years ago, when I lived in town, a  neighbor handed me some rosemary cuttings over the fence, and, as I was busy just them, I stuck them in the ground for later attention. And then I forgot about them. By spring I had two robust little plants going gangbusters. Because this time I’m hoping my work will result in a goodly number of plants, I’ll be a little more careful.

Tools and supplies I need:

Sharp, clean snippers; rooting hormone; protective gloves; clean pots, and planting medium. That’s it.

Sharp snippers: I want a clean edge to the cut, without mashing and ripping cells.

Clean snippers: I do not want to introduce pathogens into my little nursery. These tiny plants will be working hard enough to make up for the trauma they’re about to experience.

Protective gloves: this year I read the label on the rooting hormone. I am ashamed to admit I hadn’t done this before. I guess I thought it was just ground-up willow branches or something. Well, now, let me say this: there are ingredients in there, and they call for serious action if you transfer it to your skin, to clothing, or (shudder) to your inner parts. Anything that says “Call a poison control center for for treatment advice, and continue rinsing,” has my respect. Disposable gloves are cheap. Get some.

This is a softwood cutting. It’s tender and flexible, being the summer’s new growth from older branches. I’m not limited to softwood cuttings for propagation, but they’re easy to prepare and they respond quickly to the plant’s urge to grow on.

Below, Ive stripped all but the topmost leaves from the cutting. The little wounds where I pulled the leaves off result in places where the plant will try to repair itself. Those nodes will be underground, so the repair will be root formation. Also, I don’t need the plant trying to put energy into leaves, so by removing most of them, I direct its efforts into the thing I want: new roots.

Wearing my blue nitrile gloves I dip the cut end of the little plant in the rooting hormone and tap off the extra.

I use my finger as a dibble to make a hole in the soil, insert the cutting, and tamp it in. Isn’t “dibble” a good word? It means  a small hand tool used to make holes in the ground for plants, seeds, or bulbs, and comes from late Middle English debylle… OK. No more. I get it. But it is an excellent word. Here’s the little cutting in its new home.

And I give them all a good sip of Mother’s own favorite beverage: deep well water.

Just one other thing: as much as I believe these children will remain individuals in my mind, I do know I will soon forget when I set them into pots and even, sometimes, exactly who they are. Labels are a good detail.

Rosemary cuttings take between 30 and 60 days to to strike and result in about 75% successes. If by chance I don’t get all I need, I’ll try again in the spring.

Most references will tell you to keep the young plants under a plastic dome while they root up. I have learned that cuttings taken in summer will cook pretty quickly under a dome in the sun, and will be susceptible to mold if kept in the shade under a dome. I have best luck this time of year with cuttings placed in pots large enough to hold soil moisture for at least a day, and I water them regularly. For springtime propagation, domes provide some protection from the elements. This is a matter of preference. If I had time to open the domes regularly and watch for bad growths, I might use them in summer, too. But propagation is mostly science with a little bit of art in it. You work out what works.

There are many good references on propagation. An easily available one with detailed techniques and a list of plants agreeable to propagation from cuttings, and the best time of year for taking them, is Geoff Bryant’s Plant Propagation A to Z: Growing Plants for Free. I do like the idea of getting plants for free.

(“Free” is an interesting word, too: O.E. freo “free, exempt from, not in bondage,” also “noble; joyful,” from P.Gmc. *frijaz (cf. O.Fris. fri, O.S., O.H.G. vri, Ger. frei, Du. vrij, Goth. freis “free”), from PIE *prijos “dear, beloved,” from base *pri- “to love” (cf. Skt. priyah “own, dear, beloved,” priyate “loves;” O.C.S. prijati “to help,” prijatelji “friend;” Welsh rhydd “free”).)

Yes. That sums it up.

Go make some cuttings.

Published in: on September 3, 2011 at 4:01 pm  Comments (6)  

It’s Here! (Spring, I Mean)

Nothing speaks of spring like this:

Meet Penny Rose, the first lamb of the year. Isn’t she the perkiest thing you ever saw?

This is busy time for ewes, what with bearing and feeding and keeping track of youngsters. It’s suddenly a big responsibility for an animal accustomed to spending her time eating, lounging, and growing wool.

Here is Ida with her new twins, who immediately demand  feeding. Childbirth converts a lazy sheep into an attentive, conscientious mother who knows, from the first moment, what her new job is. Her voice changes. Her manner changes. She has this important thing to do now, and that’s all she is about.

Someone noted to me that this ewe mother has a lot of fleece on. Yes. While some shepherds shear just before lambing, I have always felt it puts unneeded stress onto a heavily pregnant ewe to set her on her butt and shear her. I do go in and give them a little haircut around the relevant areas, called “crutching,” to make sure the path is clear and the teats are available. I will shear later, when everyone has gotten over the excitement of lambing and new duties.

Meanwhile,

the daffodils are emerging from their winter’s sleep. Other than the sound of a lamb bleating, what can so strongly fill you with Spring as the scent of a Narcissus on the breeze? This is the Double Campernelle daffodil, a quite old variety, known in gardens from 1601.

And the Hellebores still nod, heavy and sensual,

nearly indecent with their fulsomeness. What floozies.

And what else?

We have had the Spring Fiber Sale, the first of the year’s gatherings of spinners, knitters, weavers and shepherds, the market days where we greet and exchange goods and envy. It’s been a long winter and we show off our work to one another.

See what can become of that woolly sheep when her fleece is cleaned and spun into fine yarn, worked by skilled hands into a pattern of lace?

This lovely shawl, seen at the Spring Fiber Sale, is done in the classic Shetland pattern known as “Old Shale” or, if you were a speaker of Shetland English some time ago, more probably “Old Shell” in meaning.

Here’s some winter’s work of my own,

done from handspun wool and knitted into a simple, thickly warm wrap.

And, speaking of spring, Sock Madness is underway! Sock Madness is the annual, March, sock knitting eliminations game, run online, on Ravelry – a knit and crochet community.

Here, for your enjoyment, are my completed Round 1 socks:

And my Round 2 socks:

I’m still in it. I await the Round 3 challenge…

Published in: on April 4, 2011 at 12:29 pm  Comments (4)  

Winter, Spring, Winter, Spring. Spring? Winter!

February must be the most confused of the northern months. It is made up of gloom, rains, flurries of snow, bursts of joyous sunshine, unexpected hailstorms, frosts and thaws, and wind like witches in the trees. Who can love a February?

A week ago I was cheering the emergence of bulbs in the garden beds. Narcissus buds are swelling.

The small irises are in full explosion. The splash of blue so surprised me one morning when I came up the path I felt my intake of breath before I could even recognize them as iris.

Under the fir trees, violets nod already.

and the Hellebore is a practically indecent display on the winter-bare slope.

Could I be blamed for rushing out between rain showers to plant primroses? To pull weeds? To dig holes in the damp earth and breathe deeply the hint of spring? The garden is waking! There is work to be done! Pull on the gloves and boots and get yourself out there!

Ah. Traitor. Never trust February.

This week we are promised temperatures in the low Fahrenheit 20’s again. December temperatures.

What is a garden to do?

For the most part, these early greeters are pretty hardy, and I expect they will be fine. We think of them as harbingers of spring for just this reason. They show up early and scoff at lingering winter. But there are a few of them I will worry about. These, for instance,

are my very special “Irene Copeland” daffodils which, in their bloom, look like this:

and which are planted in pots, not in the protective garden ground. I believe the Irenes would be up to the challenge, but I would hate to lose them. So I  gathered up all my bulb pots today and they are now huddled against the garden wall where they may find some protection from the coming cold. For nighttime, I’ll cover them with a plastic sheet.

Sleeping beneath a plastic sheet does not appeal to me, but if I were a daffodil I think I’d have a lesser standard of comfort. On the other hand, as I look on them now, they do remind me of prisoners lined up against a wall…

Published in: on February 20, 2011 at 3:59 pm  Comments (6)