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),


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:


It’s pickling time, too, and we have

Dilly Beans on their shelf,


Bread and Butter Pickles,










Mexican style hot carrot pickles,


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,


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.


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.


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.


I can’t stop taking pictures of them!


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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





Published in: on September 26, 2016 at 7:51 am  Comments (8)  

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.


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.


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.


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) …


… to sorting before washing …


… 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,


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.


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:


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.


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)  


Yesterday it smelled like spring for sure. Catch the scent of new grass, and violets in the air!

I can hear those fresh lambs bleating in the yard.

It’s the season of blossoms and babies.

But this morning, my gracious,

an April snowfall has come!

One expects rain in April, and a certain amount of hail, and an occasional all-destroying frost. After all, the plums are in bloom, which is reason enough for a freeze-to-kill night in these foothills.

But this gentle snowfall morning, who might have expected it?

Perhaps the nodding daffodils knew.

Published in: on April 7, 2011 at 1:53 pm  Comments (2)  

Rites of Autumn

Aside from the retrieval of flannel sheets from the storage chest, we are seeing clear signs of the change of seasons. Some things that come along every year are pleasing just because they are such certain indications.

We separate the young ewes from their elders in preparation for breeding. Here is Ava on her way to her winter digs. She’ll join some half-sisters there.

Ava on her way to new digs

Some shepherds breed ewes their first year. We think of them as youngsters at that age, and still call them lambs. Just because a teenager can breed, it doesn’t mean she might not be better off growing up.

The pace of knitting for winter picks up in autumn.

A little winter cap

This little cap went home with one of the solar contractors working on the house.

The woods and fields are full of fungi. Among the pleasures of fall are these, Coprinus comatus, the Shaggy Mane mushroom. There are a scant 3, more or less, wild mushrooms I am comfortable to pick and eat. The Shaggy Mane is one of them.

Coprinus comatus

It will never be a commercial commodity; it famously turns to black ink within hours of emerging.

This is a clever mechanism for dispersal of the spores. As it “rots” its way to old age, the edges of the egg-shaped young mushroom flare out, leaving the spores exposed to the elements. Shaggy Manes are a mess at this stage. The black liquid gives this type of mushroom another common name, Inky Cap, and the ink migrates everywhere once you touch it. But the liquid must be an effective means of carrying spore, because Coprinus can dot entire fields with its ghost-white caps. This year we’ve been lucky and have found them young and firm.  When you are lucky, they make a fine seasonal treat sauteed and served on toast.

We were thinking about the possibility of propagating Coprinus in our own pastures. They like disturbed ground, grassy areas under tree litter, and manure-y areas. We have some of that. So this year we sacrificed a mushroom to an experiment. We let it age to a fine state of liquefaction, tossed in some stem cuttings that seemed likely to have mycelia attached, mushed it all together in the food processor, and poured it into a jar with water to fill.

Nice, isn’t it? The farmhouse laboratory at work.

Ink of Coprinus

I took it down to the orchard and sprinkled the black liquor along the fence line. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, most of the mushrooms and other fungi in the woods are strangers to me. Right now they are erupting in the hundreds, and some of them are beautiful beyond any expectation.

A woodland fungus...

The last of the apples wait to be collected.

The Liberty Apple

These are Liberty, which is a fine disease-resistant fall apple, good eaten fresh when it’s young, good cooked when it’s mature.

Another ritual of the season is the planting of shrubs, trees and bulbs in the garden. Our garden is still the workplace of too many heavy-footed men to permit much gardening. The plants chosen to fill the beds around the new house will be far too valuable and vulnerable to risk next to the continued battering of cast-offs and short-cuts. But one place seems completed enough to permit a hopeful gesture. I really could not stand it one more minute, and I drove off to town one raining Saturday and bought a load of red-leaved shrubs for the northwest corner of the house.

Truck of shrubberies

It was a dim, grim day, with rain in sheets blowing across the roads. The cab of the pickup was a steam-bath inside; its old heater groaning against the window fog was barely up to the job. But I was glad of heart as I drove home with an assortment of blueberries, a maple tree, and 4 Euonymous in brilliant red. I would plant something.

By coincidence, my order of heritage garden bulbs arrived the same week, and I was forced to buy some stoneware pots to house them.

Pots o' bulbs

These bulbs came from Old House Gardens where they sell bulbs collected from generations of gardens, tenderly cultured and closely held by gardeners who value the lineages old varieties. These are the bulbs of our grandmothers, and older still. Go there to meet the blue Hyacinth orientalis, the Roman hyacinth known in gardens since 1562, or the English bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta, whose honey-scented blooms were known to Shakespeare, but were ancient in gardens even then. Who can set such a bulb in the earth without knowing some sense of the long time from then to now?

I chose pots I thought would keep them well,  these old bulbs grown new.

Meanwhile, back to the season coming on… We had our first frost this morning.

First frosting

It makes me think again of those flannel sheets and of the down-filled comforter. It’s a fine season, this one, given to color and scent and temperature.

I like fall best.

Published in: on November 14, 2009 at 9:30 pm  Comments (1)  

… Wind Doth Blow

Oh, dear.

The snow came and went, the rain swept through, and the sweeping included a few odd bits of architecture. This was our greenhouse.

Used to be a greenhouse

It’s pretty small damage from a storm that left  some folks with burst pipes, collapsed roofs, or standing water in their livingrooms. Still, I think it’s sheltered its last tomato starts.

The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?
He’ll sit in a barn and keep himself warm
and hide his head under his wing, poor thing.

Well, never mind that, because this weekend THE SUN HAS COME OUT. Rush, rush. Get into the garden!

Almost always there comes a weekend in January when the weather fairs off and some short spasm of garden work can be indulged.  Usually I give it to the herb garden. Weeding out and snipping up the herb plants is a job on the right scale for a short interval of sun in midwinter, and the soil there is more likely to have drained enough to be forgiving of gloved hands in the dirt. At the moment we have no herb garden, since everything that was garden is now heaps of construction spoils.

But there is orchard to prune! Whee! I mean it. I have had such a case of toxic garden withdrawal this year, and all the more acute in the winter weather. So I found the clippers

Still Life at Pruning Time

(now, there’s a miracle all on its own) and went forth to do service against the forces of crossing limbs.

Now, look here. It is January, after all. So I wore my coat and hat like a sensible gardener. But it was not 15 minutes when I had the coat off again.


My condolences go to you-all who live east of us and are looking at those -20F temperatures. I know I was tired of just ordinary 20F quickly enough. But today I revel. And I am not alone. Little speaks of comfort like a hen finding a place to dust up on a winter afternoon

Dust, beautiful dust

or a cat absorbing the heat from a window.

Yellowcat taking a break

I give you that the day was short for the task, my arms and hands are not well toned after 3 months or so of garden idleness, my clippers, peccato mio,  are not sharp,

prega per noi peccatori, adesso e nell'ora della nostra morte

and the quest for the perfect 45-degree cut is never reliably fulfilled.  But I sweated a bit, and reminded myself of a couple of callouses softening, and found a few muscles that have lain dormant. Ahh. How sweet the smell of severed bark. How musical the sound of clippers closing.

Actually a t-shirt!

A good day in January.

Published in: on January 18, 2009 at 2:47 pm  Comments (3)  

I Thawed I Thaw a Thnow Thtorm

This kind of winter is rare enough for us. The eye delights, over and over again, even though the shepherd’s arm protests at the carrying of water and chopping of gate paths. Here is the Clackamas River with lace-works on its banks and in its air.The Clackamas River in Raiment

It brings to mind those 19th Century holiday greeting cards with glitter and snow in happy drifts.

Why do you suppose we so warm (I use the word advisedly) to images that evoke a past we each have not really known? We cherish those views of past winters and farms from calendars and books, put them on our holiday cards, and hang them on our walls to bring up that feeling of the season. We look for that picture of ourselves in a traditional landscape. But when we do, we are warm! Always warm bundled in wool, warm in this darkest of seasons, warm with hot cider in a cup.

a neighbor's barn in Christmas week.

Here’s a view of a neighbor’s barn. Doesn’t it just rejoice the cockles of your heart?


  • Main Entry: cockles of the heart
  • Etymology: perhaps from 2cockle
  • Date: 1671
  • : the core of one’s being —usually used in the phrase warm the cockles of the heart
  • Main Entry: 2cockle
  • Function: noun
  • Etymology: Middle English cokille, from Middle French coquille shell, modification of Latin conchylia, plural of conchylium, from Greek konchylion, from konchē conchDate: 14th century 1: any of various chiefly marine bivalve mollusks (family Cardiidae) having a shell with convex radially ribbed valves; especially : a common edible European bivalve (Cerastoderma edule syn. Cardium edule)]
But with that snow-bound barn goes water that doesn’t flow, gates that don’t open, livestock that cannot find browse so need extra feed, and need shelter from the wind. It means making paths to the yards, busting latches loose, shoveling out the swing of the gate…
Not that I’m complaining. We choose this place and this life. But in part that’s because it brings us next to reality, even some hard moments. We butchered a young ram last week, one that could not be properly sheltered from the storm. Rams are a problem on a small outfit. They are almost always destined to become dinners. You just really have to have special yards and lots of fences to have many rams on a place. They have a competitive attitude toward one another, and this one was small in stature and couldn’t be left with Eldon, the big ram. We had no good place to put the little guy, so we brought him up and butchered him. He’s hanging, in the old style, in the woodshed.
Do you remember my comment when the temperature dropped here, that I thought we would lose the Kiwifruit crop? Here’s what happened:
Split fruit after the freeze
When it got cold enough to freeze the water in the cells of the fruits, the cells swelled enough to push open the skins, making splits. The cells themselves burst, leaving a fruit that is mushy. They won’t continue to ripen. The wild birds and rabbits will take them as they fall, however. In fact, the birds won’t wait for them to fall but will come by and help themselves off the vines. Some plants tolerate more cold than others, but few fruits will be improved by a truly cold snap.
Except, that is, in the matter of pleasing the eye.
Apples left on a tree, not ours!
Who owns these apples, left like holiday decorations on a frozen tree? Not me, you may be assured! We take our apples long before this!
The thaw is upon us now. The magic is gone. What was white is muddy. What was lovely is broken and abused.
There’ll be other winters, other snowfalls. But it’s been over 50 years since we had one like this here.
Make your reservations now if you plan to be around for the next one!
Published in: on December 27, 2008 at 4:24 pm  Comments (1)  

Hot Weather, Ripe Apples

It’s my opinion that temperatures in the F 90s are way more summery than is enjoyable. When I can taste the salt on my lips, it’s too warm.

However, there are some things well-suited to late summer heat, and one of them is the late summer apple.

The Gravensteins are ripe again. Since I haven’t found an Early Transparent tree for the orchard collection, these are the first to come ripe for us. Last year I wrote an encomium on the Gravenstein apple. It was the first year we’d had a real harvest off the tree, and I was thrilled with it. This year, again, we have a good yield. At least something in the garden is doing well.

Most summers we make plenty of applesauce for the larder, and a good bottling of cider as well. But this year, given the shortage of storage space in our arrangements, we thought it might be best to dry the apples. It’s been a few years since we dried some, and it’s time to renew the stock. They make good snacks and lunch fruits. They reconstitute into breakfast fruit. And, of course, into desserts. In any case, the weather right now is in perfect harmony with the Gravenstein crop, so here am I:

setting out apple slices to dry. I am somewhat surrounded by the construction site, so things are not as picturesque as they might be. But the studio, built of steel arches, is a marvelous reflector. The racks are set on the south side, and the apple slices are drying fast enough they were leathery within a couple of hours. Now, that’s solar energy at work.

So last year, my apple panegyric was on the old Gravenstein. This year I will nod to the Hewes Crab.

The Hewes crab apple

The Hewes crab apple

These days we have become so accustomed to the very few apple varieties that appear in the markets, only home orchardists really get to enjoy the pleasures of old, favorite apples. As with so many of our vegetables and fruits, commercial cultivation of apples demands uniformity of size, color and flavor. Besides, only apples capable of withstanding the rigors of large-scale picking and shipping operations can make it into the mainstream of grocery marketing. As a result, so many classic flavors have been lost to the common palate that few folks these days realize the value of, for instance, a crab apple.

Note well: a crab apple is not the same as a crabbed apple. Merriam-Webster would have us know the verb, to crab, this way:

Main Entry: 5crab
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): crabbed; crab·bing
Etymology: Middle English crabben, probably back-formation from crabbed
Date: 1662
transitive verb 1 : to make sullen : sour <old age has crabbed his nature> 2 : to complain about peevishly 3: spoil , ruin intransitive verb : carp , grouse <always crabs about the weather>
crab·ber noun
As applied to an apple, that would be one of those small, puckery apples from an old tree aging into retirement.
A crab apple, on the other hand, is a small, strongly-flavored apple, tart, sweet, tannic, usually intended for cooking, pickling, or, best of all, cidering.
Back When… that is, back when European folks were first putting down roots on this continent, the greatest number of trees in a New World orchard were grown from seed, not from graft as is more common today. Apple seedlings (or pippins) are notoriously variable. When you grow a new tree from a graft, by taking a cutting of the old tree and placing it into the wood of the new rootstock, you get a new tree above the graft that is just like the old one. It is genetically the same tree. It’s, if you like, a clone of the old one. More on the value and mystery of that in a minute. When, however, you grow an apple tree from the seeds of the fruit, you get all kinds of results. Some are good. Some are not so good. They vary from their parent in size, texture, scent, shape, flavor, fruit color, hardness, keepability, cookability, disease resistance, and vigor. Seedling orchards are the source of all the apple varieties we might treasure today, varieties with outstanding names like Ashmead’s Kernal, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Kentucky Limbertwig, Bloody Ploughman, Burr Knot, and Foxwhelp. But few of those make it into the Safeway franchise, and today can be found only in backyards and small collections.
Henry Thoreau mourned the loss of seedling cider orchards and expressed his taste for apples “sour enough to set a squirrel’s teeth on edge and make a jay scream.” He thought little of the “selected lists of pomological gentlemen” whose “‘Favorites’ and ‘Nonsuches’ and ‘Seek-no-farthers’ commonly turn out very tame and forgettable. They are eaten with comparatively little zest, and have no real tang nor smack to them.
Yeah. That’s where I am.
But to get back to Back When, the apple back then was most likely to be used in cider. Certainly it was eaten as whole or cooked fruit, but its usual destination was the cider glass. And I do not mean, when I say this, a beverage like that jug of apple juice on the shelf at the supermarket. I mean a cider made of all the varieties in the orchard, blended in the crusher, each cider no doubt irreproducable, each cider rich in tannins, fruit flavors, sweets and sours… and that cider mostly not taken fresh when it was most properly called juice, but let to ferment and held into the winter until it was ready to drink, all heady and fizzy and — it’ll give you a lift, a real cider will.
And this is where varieties like the little Hewes crab shine. The Hewes is an old variety, also called the Virginia crab apple, known to have been grown in the cider orchards of the colonists.

“The liquor flows from the pumice as water from a sponge,” wrote Philadelphia farmer Henry Wynkoop in 1814, of the Hewe’s crab.

When a seedling variety showed itself to hold special promise, it was grown on in the orchard through grafted trees. The little Hewes crab came to the orchard of Thomas Jefferson in this way, and he thought enough of it to keep it as a favorite in the cider orchard.

And so, in my own little orchard, there grows a Hewes crab apple that came to me as a grafted sample of the trees of Thomas Jefferson. I’m not sure how to express this, but imagine if you can that when I place my hand on the bark of my Hewes tree, it is the same tree that grew under the eyes of Thomas Jefferson. His glance might have fallen upon my tree. When I slice into one of those Hewes apples, the aroma that rises is the same one that filled the orchards of the American colonists. And when we crush our apples into golden juice and raise the glass to our lips, that mix of scents and flavors and darkening color is like, but not like — since every year’s cider is unique — that cider that calmed the thirst of those first orchardists on the North American continent.

OK — maybe that’s enough of that. I’m weary from a too-hot weekend when we moved the greenhouse out of the way of the construction site and dug up and moved plants to be saved (what unfortunate weather it is for that!), and maybe I’m overwhelmed by the possible connection to spirits (spirits of more than one kind) of another time. But it’s true, the historical continuity of the cells in a grafted plant is unarguable. Given careful husbandry, those varieties are immortal. There is no reason for us to lose them. If we value the opinions of our ancestors, there is every reason to keep them.

I give you:

the Hewes crab.
Published in: on September 14, 2008 at 10:11 pm  Comments (7)  

The Fruit Wars Episode Deux

It’s a war. Regular readers might remember the tale of the grape harvest last fall. Every year we face off the birds at the cherry harvest, too. Some years it goes one way, some years the other. Last year we wound up with no cherries. Not one. In about 2 hours while our backs were turned the birds had them all. We had thought the cherries weren’t quite ready yet. Apparently the birds thought they were.

This year… I happened to glance out the window just as the dinner biscuits were about to go in the oven, and I saw a flutter of wings in the branches of the cherry tree. “Oh,” said I, “there’s a bird in the cherry tree.”

We set aside the biscuit mix, took up a branch hook, and went a-cherry-ing, right then. Our competition was so intent on the opportunity we were swooped a couple of times by robins who, on their way to the party, neglected to notice two humans at work until they were so close they made emergency maneuvers to avoid us.

An hour later the biscuits were probably a bit worse for the time passed, but we had a good taking of fruits, more than it seemed we could make use of in the short term. And a short term it is, because fresh cherries do not keep for long on the kitchen table.

Out came one of our favorite tools, the old mechanical cherry pitter, a tool so simple and satisfying you just have to admire it.

Hand powered and efficient, the pitter takes care in minutes of a job that would take hours with a knife.

Go on, eat some while you’re working.

We had more or less enough cherries in our tummies by the time we finished pitting. Most of the haul went into freezer bags with a scoop of sugar and will be available for use later on.

Ha! We beat them this time! I looked out this morning and saw a cherry tree without a single fruit left. The birds had finished up what little we left behind on the upper branches.

History can be decided by a matter of moments.

Published in: on July 26, 2008 at 3:59 pm  Comments (3)