Friday, June 22, 2018

Solstice Rainbow in the Garden

Yesterday, on the longest day of the year, Brandon and I worked in the garden late into the muggy evening hours.   Dark storm clouds on the horizon gave us some warning that heavy rain was on the way.  It didn't last long, and the sun burned away the moisture quickly, making a bright rainbow across the sky.  

I ran for my phone so I could take it's picture, and walked all the way from the front yard to the garden admiring it on my way.  Can you see that clump of vegetation near the back door in the photo above?  That's the herb spiral!  It's out of control with giant sunflowers, zinnias, and wild milkweed.  There are plenty of herbs mixed in there too.  When I walk outside from the backdoor I am greeted by a wonderful sweet smell.  It's the milkweed flowers.  

The milkweed flower clusters are as big as soft balls, and make a wonderful scent.  It's a good thing I can smell them from feet away because they have so many insects crawling on the blooms that leaning in for sniff is risking a bug up the nose.  

On the other side of the door is a wild elderberry shrub with giant platter sized flower heads.  It smells nice too, even though the blooms are so heavy they have pulled the entire plant to the ground.  


The rainbow is starting to fade as I make my way behind the greenhouse. There's Brandon, busily weed whacking in the garden and completely oblivious to the rainbow above. 

Brandon!  Look up, there's a rainbow!  

The greenhouse, which was an oasis of warmth during the late winter and early spring, is not a very comfortable place to linger now that the summer heat has arrived and there's no more lettuce to harvest.  I routinely look in through the open sides to make sure the plants aren't dehydrating, but it had been more than several days since I ventured inside to face the heat.  Weeds have colonized the pathways, but the sunflowers, kale, brussel sprouts, volunteer tomatoes, and the nasturtium flowers must be loving the heat, because they are growing fast.    

The brussel sprouts in the greenhouse got sprayed with thuricide/Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is helping keep the caterpillars from doing too much damage.  The brussel sprouts I moved to the garden outside look terrible.  Two of them turned yellow and died, and the remaining plants are less than half the size of those in the greenhouse.  

The sunflowers are blooming!  Most of them are so tall the flowers are smooshed against the plastic on the roof. 

Some of the nasturtiums have orange flowers and some are red.  I ate one of each and they both taste super peppery.  Like eating hot wasabi!  Whew! 

Out in the garden, Brandon cut down all the weeds around the tomato plants, which have a ring of hay mulch, because it's time to add the tomato cages and stakes.  I pulled weeds by hand from around the dying brussel sprouts, and tiny lettuce plants.  I have a healthy patch of kale, some marigolds, zinnias, sunflowers, some green beans, and sprawling tangle of cucumber plants.  Despite the rabbits, I can still find the sweet potato vines, too. 

A cucumber!  I've had such terrible luck growing any kind of vine plant that I really never expected to harvest a cucumber.  The seeds for these plants come from our good neighbor.  He always gets a glut of cucumbers and shares.  He told me to save some seeds, so I let some dry out on a paper plate.  So easy.  These must be hardy plants because they got no special treatment and they are making fruit! 

Look at that.  I could make some pickles!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Vacation or Not

I got to spend last week at a stream restoration workshop in Fort Collins, Colorado.  My friend, coworker, and travel companion corrected me when I referred to this trip as our vacation.  He didn't seem to think that an intensive week of training bracketed by late nights of travel, complete with delayed flights and rental car negotiations qualified as a vacation.  

But, I didn't have to cook a meal, clean up after anyone, or feed a hungry goat for five whole days!  Sounds like a vacation to me!  We attended class each day, but still managed to fit in some local travel to explore the foot hills of the Rocky mountains.  

The class included an entire day of data collection on a restored stream that flows through a local park.  It was incredibly hot in the Colorado sun.  I felt like an ant under a magnifying glass - like the sunlight was a force field that was pushing on my skin and roasting me in my hip waders.  I was quick to volunteer to be in the creek with the equipment.  

Because we are used to a different time zone, we were up early each day and could spend a few hours exploring before class started.  We traveled up the Poudre River canyon one early morning, and watched the sunrise cast light on the mountains.  We left the class a little early on Friday so we could drive to Denver and catch our flight.  Things were delayed and we made a stop in Omaha for fuel.  I left the lights on in my car at the long term parking at the Cincinnati airport, so by the time we got a jump start and made the long drive home, it was after four in the morning.  

Back at home, Brandon started teaching a summer class at the university, harvested nearly all our hay, and stayed on top of all the farm chores while I was gone.  He was not on vacation!

The pool water has turned green, but all our critters were well fed and happy when I returned.  He said he was glad to hand the morning animal chores back to me. 

It has only been a few weeks since we had the annual firefly festival farm party.  Everyone agreed that the fireflies put on the best show this year.  It was magical.  After the sun set, the kids ran through the fields catching fireflies while the rest of us sat in chairs and watched the world come alive with flickers of light.  

For the first time, when I showed guests the greenhouse, they seemed rather impressed instead of confused by the tangle of weeds.  The lettuce we have been harvesting all spring was starting to bolt by the day of the party, but we managed to get enough tender leaves to make a big salad.  We loaded the smoker down with meats.  We may have gotten our fire a little too hot too quickly, because the meat reached the correct temperature hours before we expected it to, and it wasn't as tender as I'd hoped, but no one went hungry.  

The five chicks that hatched under the white speckled hen are thriving.  They are out of the coop now during the day, and run beneath the legs of the flock grabbing bits of chicken food.  The goats and donkeys are fat and always hungry. Max, our twenty year old cat, was buried under the apple tree while I was away.  All of our first generation pets, Attila, Max, and Puck, are under the apple tree now.  Last night we took an evening stroll with Wendigo past their small graves and Brandon started talking about getting a puppy.  Oh my!  

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Iris, Pool, Goat Pee, Cats

The iris are finished blooming, and I feel like I barely got to spend any quality time with them before they were finished with their flowers. 

Our annual farm firefly party is this Sunday! Whoop!  Each year it gets easier to plan.  I've been catching up on laundry and tending the swimming pool, which is sparkling clear and blue.  We put a black cover over the pool when we closed it last fall, and it prevented algae from growing in the pool over the winter.  Opening the pool this year was so much better than last year, when the water was nearly black with algae and I had to go to battle with chemicals and the vacuum.  I'm so pleased with the way we were able to sink the pool into the landscape.  It reminds me of a pond nestled in the grass.  

Every summer, Brandon extends his yard mowing boundary.  If it were up to me to mow, we would have a yard of wild brush, I'm sure, but with Brandon behind the blade, our yard looks more and more hospitable all the time.  

We moved all the boy goats to the pig fence, behind the garden, and let Peaches and the baby have the big pasture.  The donkeys are grazing what used to be the goat pasture.  The goats had a day of crying and stress when they were separated, but now that they have calmed down, it's much nicer for me to work with my girl goats without getting jumped on or peed on.  I gave Little Buck a head scratch the other day and he responded by pissing all over my legs! Yuck!  I think he may be growing up, after all.    

Ditto Cat would never do such a thing.  

It looks like Newt Kitty is ready for a summer diet!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Using Every Second of Our Day

Yesterday morning Brandon sent me a text saying that he forgot to take out the trash before he left home.  Taking out the trash at our house means pulling the big trash can all the way down our long driveway to leave it near the road.  Wendigo and I had already fed all the animals, filled the water buckets, watered the garden and greenhouse, and fussed with the swimming pool to get the filter running, making a dozen trips to the barn and back.  It was nine thirty, I was supposed to be at the office, and I was a sweaty mess, but we tugged the trash can to the road and breathed deep as we strolled.  

We even stopped to admire the iris and the pretty green lawn.  Someone recently gave me a compliment on my weight loss and asked if I was working out.  Ha!  My life is a work out!

After my hours at the office, I stopped at the grocery, but I didn't have to buy any greens.  Our greenhouse is stocked up with lettuce, peas, and kale.  Dinner prep these days involves picking a giant bowl of leaves and using the salad spinner to rinse and dry them.  With sweet potatoes in the oven, Brandon grills the meat while I assemble two salads in mixing bowls.  We joke that the goats have taught us how to patiently chew our roughage.  

The season for endangered bat surveys has officially arrived, which means I could be scheduled to be out of town for work every day from now until mid-August.  I've been taking stolen moments from my days to get the plants I started in the greenhouse re-homed into the garden.  The brussel sprouts seem to like their new home.  

I moved some lettuce that has sprouted in dense clusters in the greenhouse to the garden too, plus a pot full of cucumber seedlings and another of climbing green beans.  The plants were crowded in their pots, and their roots were intertwined, so I just planted them in one big clump and surrounded them with old hay to suppress the weeds.  Good luck, plants.  

I ordered twenty-five strawberry plants, two gooseberries, and fifty asparagus.  The strawberries were packed in a plastic bag with moist shredded paper.  They looked like a bundle of hairy roots.  The plants arrived on Monday so I asked Brandon to prepare himself for some digging, and I started planting as soon as I got home yesterday.  The storm clouds were gathering so we worked fast, hoping to get the plants in the ground before the rain.  

I read that strawberries like rich well drained soil.  Well, shoot.  I dug a trench in our tight, poor draining clay garden soil, and filled it with good dirt I stole from around the compost area.  I remember reading that strawberries can share diseases with blackberries, so it's good not to plant them together.  Well, shoot.  I planted them right next the blackberry patch, just because I had a good spot without so many weeds.  Good luck, strawberries!  

Did I tell you that one of my hens hatched six chicks?  They are adorable tiny fluff balls, and the momma is super grouchy and bites me when I approach the chicks.  

So many tomatoes!  It's past time to put the tomatoes out.  Last week, I placed flags every six feet inside the garden fence and dug a small hole near each.  Brandon worked hard to cart in loads and loads of old hay so we can mulch around the tomatoes, but we haven't had a chance to actually plant them yet. This weekend we are determined to make it happen.  My goal is to plant thirty plants.  I should have plenty to share.  

Brandon took on the task of digging some trenches eight inches deep in the place we grew tomatoes last year.  It's some of the best dirt we have, so I hope the asparagus will like it.  After digging half of the trenches he was questioning our need for fifty asparagus plants.  What can I say, I like asparagus!

Wendigo had a blast helping Brandon dig.  She pawed the dirt, ate dirt clumps, and put her big head in the way.  We had to take a break to scarf our dinner, but then we were back at the asparagus patch trying to get the plants in the ground before dark and before the storm that was threatening.   

The asparagus arrived wrapped in some waxy paper.  Each plant looks like a long legged spider, with roots over a foot long.  Because our trenches were narrow, I spread the roots in each direction, and covered them with about two inches of soil.  I got the last plants in the ground just before dark, and we were more than ready to rinse off and soak our weary bodies in the hot tub.  Brandon said he gives us credit for using every second of our day.  

As we were preparing for yoga then bed, I checked the weather and saw that we were not going to get the storm that was promised after all.  Sigh.  I went back outside at ten o'clock in my night gown, and tugged the garden hose around so I could water the newly planted strawberries and asparagus plants.  I didn't want to take a chance that the roots would dry out in the dry soil, especially after we worked so hard to get them planted.  Swarms of insect buzzed my headlamp and landed in my ears, so I held the lamp down low, which resulted in a bug flying up my night gown!  By the time I extracted it, it had made it's way up nearly to my neck.  Ack!  Someone drove their car on the neighbors driveway, and slowed down to watch the crazy person dancing on the lawn in their pajamas with a light in one hand and spraying hose in the other!  What a day.  

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A Salamander and a Smoothie

As I walked up a recently restored stream channel, I noticed this bright red salamander on the rocks at my feet.  It was in a dry part of the stream, so it was dehydrated and barely moving.  I carried it to a shallow pool and splashed it with stream water and it started to squirm. 

At the time, I assumed it was a northern red salamander (Pseudotriton ruber), which I've seen before.  I've been doing some reading and looking closely at the photos, and I think it might be a midland mud salamander (Pseudotriton montanus).  I've never seen one of those before!  It's always exciting to find a new-to-me species.  Does it look like fish bait to you?  

Puddles and small vernal pools in the floodplain had thousands of tadpoles.  Spring is an exciting time for amphibians.  

I fell off the diet wagon this week.  Not only did I over do the drinks and snacks at a party, but then Brandon was out of town, and I was on the go, so I skipped grocery shopping and making real meals.  After a long day of field work, I realized that my only nutrition came from the coffee I had for breakfast, potato chips and a melted snicker bar I ate in desperation while driving, and a chicken finger basket from a small town Dairy Queen which plagued my digestion for hours.  I hadn't eaten anything green for two days, so it was no wonder I didn't feel like cooking.  Time to raid the greenhouse garden for some greens!

With a blender full of lettuce, pea shoots, and kale leaves, a splash of water, plus some frozen blueberries, a handful of strawberries, the juice from a lemon, and an avocado, I made an entire pitcher of green smoothie.  No cooking required!  No chewing either!  

When Brandon arrived home late at night, I handed him a big glass of health and he made faces while he swallowed it down.  A green smoothie without a sweet banana is a powerful taste. We are steering ourselves back onto the right track now.  Having all those greens just waiting to be picked makes it easier.     

Monday, May 7, 2018

Blue Bus Guest Cleanup

We took a Sunday drive to visit our old blue bus that lives in the forest, high on the cliffs above the river.  Even though it's only a forty-five minute drive from our little farmhouse, I haven't had a weekend bus get-away for over a year.  For years the bus was our wild place of escape from our city jobs and suburban home.  A place to get away from it all.  Now that we live away from it all, all the time, the bus has been neglected.  But not forgotten.  

Just like we always used to do, I packed a picnic basket and filled the coffee thermos while Brandon assembled a box of tools.  While we loaded the trunk of our car with our supplies, we played keep-away with Wendigo, who tempted us with her toys.  Sorry, Wendi, you are too big to enjoy a ride in the car all the way to the bus.  Besides, someone has to stay home and keep on eye on those silly goats.  This was my first trip to the bus without Puck, and I couldn't shake the feeling that I was forgetting something important.  

The entrance gate was so overgrown with vines and bushes that we missed it the first time we drove by.  We were glad to see that it wasn't easy access, since we have had problems with people dumping their trash on our property in the past.  This time, there was only one new garbage pile near the road, but it was topped with a giant mattress and box springs.  Sigh.

The little clearing we made years ago, to park our truck, was thick with green plants.

I walked slowly behind Brandon as he blazed a trail through the vegetation.  It was like walking into a jungle.  Birds and insects were filling the forest with sound, and beams of sunlight filtered through the tall canopy so that we walked through beams of warm light and through patches of cool shade.  Leaves brushed against our legs and we had to duck our head under branches.  A toad hopped along in front of me.  

Right before the curve in the trail, when the bus becomes visible, I always get nervous that we will find a fallen tree on the bus, or to see that vandals have burned it or busted the windows.  There it is!  It was free of fallen trees or scorch marks.  Whew.  

We've had bus guests since we've been there.  They left a bit of mess to clean up, but at least they didn't ruin everything.  We did a quick survey of the bus and the surrounding area, then swept all the leaves from the back deck, set up the table, and had a picnic in the filtered sunlight while we admired our trees.  This property has some of the most beautiful trees.  Especially giant sugar maples.   We could hear the drumming of woodpeckers echoing from the cliffs across the river.    

The front door, which was getting soft anyway, was open and broken.  There were empty water and Gatorade bottles, some canned food, and lots of empty candy wrappers.  Also cigarette butts, a mans sweatshirt, and a few pillows.  Some of our things, like some nice old oil lamps, metal tins, and some old tools were missing.  Brandon said it was nice that our guests had enough energy to carry off our things, but didn't pack out their trash.  I thought it was funny that they took the time to hang those tree shaped air fresheners.  They must not care for the musty forest and diesel oil smell that lingers in the bus.  

We bagged up the garbage, cleaned a few birds nest out of the sink, picked up the shed snake skins from the floor, and removed a wasp nest.  We patched the front door back together, and have some plans for building a new one.  One of the back windows is leaking, and the wood floor underneath is rotting.  I want to replace the wood stove with one that works better.  I can see many more days at the bus in my future.  
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