Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How Much is Home Grown Garlic Worth?

Remember the overloaded pails of garlic that I harvested from the garden at the farm, way back in July?  Well, I brought all that garlic home, put them in some wire boxes in Brandon's studio, and directed a fan on them for several days, to help them dry out.  My plan was to wait a few days, brush off the dirt, cut the roots, and then create lovely garlic braids to display all my garlic bounty.  That was the plan anyway.  

Instead, it's nearing the end of August, and the boxes of garlic were still cluttering up the studio where each time I walked by I would tell myself that any day now, I'm going to do something with all that garlic.  Finally, motivated by preparations for my nieces birthday party, I brought all the dried garlic into the dining room, and dumped it on the table.  You know, because I didn't have enough to do, and it's important when hosting a party that there not be a harmless pile of garlic in a room that guests never go into, but instead it should be on the dining room table. Doh!  So even though my timing was off, my plan was finally underway.  

The good thing about creating a giant mess that involves actual clumps of dirt on the dining room table, and bits of vegetable matter and dirt in a a goodly perimeter around the table and on all the chairs, with company on their way, is that it's such an obvious disaster that people volunteer to help you deal with it.  Aha!  I knew I had a plan!  Jamie and I settled in to tackle the garlic task, and between the two of us and a few tasty beverages, we managed to clip the extremely dried up stems from the Susanville variety, which were small and ugly, and trim the roots, clean, and braid the most lovely bulbs from the other variety.  The other variety are from the bulbs saved from moms garden the season before, and we don't remember what they were called, but they make nice big bulbs and long thick stems.  

My braiding technique is getting better, but my braids still don't look as tight as others I've seen.  I'm pretty pleased with them anyway.  The majority of the bulbs were placed in a mesh bag; I'll try to use the bagged garlic first.  I recently learned a new way to peel the cloves, which I've only tried a few times, but I think when I perfect the technique it's going to make using all my bounty of garlic a cinch.  You can watch the video on how to peel a head of garlic in ten seconds here, but the idea is to clamshell to big metal bowls with the loose cloves inside and shake it like mad, which bangs all the peels off the cloves.  It sort of works! And it's a good arm workout too.  

Not counting the five braids, I ended up with over four pounds of garlic.  While Jamie and I were admiring the garlic, he mentioned that it must be worth a lot.  How much does garlic cost, anyway?  I've found that this is a dangerous question to ask yourself when it comes to garden produce.  Considering all the work (and joy!) I put into planting the garlic, harvesting the garlic, fretting over the garlic, and then finally prepping the garlic, I'm sure it's "worth" more, to me anyway, that it would cost to buy.  Grocery food is cheap compared to the labor of producing it at this scale and with my limited set of skills and know how.  But, just for fun, I looked on to see how much I would spend had I decided to buy my garlic instead of growing it.  Since Amazon has a pound of fresh garlic for $8.20, and a braid of garlic with sixteen cloves for $16.00, I could buy the equivalent garlic for approximately $84.49 and have it shipped, for free, directly to my door. 

How does this compare to the cost of growing it myself?  I spent about $22.00 on garlic bulbs, plus shipping costs.  I spent one very pleasant day (about four hours) prepping beds and planting cloves, about an hour harvesting the garlic, and hour fussing with the garlic to get it to dry, and maybe two hours playing with it to make braids.  So, based on Amazon prices, my time was "worth" about $7.80 a hour.  I see now why I'm not a professional garlic farmer!  

But, there are some intangibles that don't get factored into the math  -  the fun I had making garlic, the exercise, the vitamin D from the sun, the connection to natural rhythms, the grounding of my electromagnetic field to the planet (maybe?), the companionship of shared tasks, the excuse to put dirt on the dinning room table, the excuse to drink tasty beverages in celebration of accomplishment, the taste of homegrown organic garlic all year long, and the bragging rights (look at my garlic!).  I think each of these things is worth at least $1.00 an hour, which raises the worth of my time to... well, still less than $20.00 an hour.  No wonder I don't know any professional garlic farmers!!   

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Year 5 Party

I had so much fun at my nieces' fifth birthday party!  We tried to cram in every fun birthday activity imaginable, minus a magic show.  Maybe next year, I can talk Jamie into learning some magic tricks.... Not that the kids would have the stamina for it.  I tried hard to make sure everyone was well sugared the entire day, so they could keep up their energy for all the frivolity, but despite regular infusions of cup cakes, birthday cake, ice cream cones, juice boxes, and campfire smores, by ten o'clock, the kids had partied so hard that they were exhausted and waving surrender before we even got a chance to watch the animated movie planned as the party finale, like we did last year.  That's okay, I watched it the next day without them! 

My nieces and nephew were there, as were four of their friends.  Seven kids didn't sound like that many until they were all there running around, and then if felt like there were dozens of kids!  We played the balloon game, which is fun for the adults because we get to watch the kids do silly things to win a prize.  Jamie and I thought up goofy tasks, mostly involving mimicking funny looking or sounding animals, and wrote these on strips of paper inside the balloons.  The kids got to pop the balloons, which seems to be the best part, and then perform the tasks to get fun prizes, like fake mustaches or princess wands.  

I thought it was great that my little pool was absolutely filled with children.  As hot as it was, I didn't get in with them during the first round because I didn't think there was room for me in all that splashing!  It was pool chaos!  By the evening, when I was melting, my sister-in-law and I sneaked into the pool for a few moments of calm and cool floating before the kids spied us and we became immersed in a game of whirlpool and floaty bombardment.  It was intense, but awesome.  

When they were done splashing in the pool, they gave the lawn a good watering as they played in the sprinkler.  My sprinkler has colored balls that go rolling down the outside and get shot into the air by the water.  This looked like fun to me, but it seems that the kids had the most fun sticking their heads in the spray were the ball comes out.  Maybe that's one of those things you have try before you can understand the appeal?  

Once the sun stopped blaring, the adults played corn hole while the kids played chase in the garden.  I overhead them saying they were "running in the maze", which seems like a pretty good way to describe my arrangement of raised beds.  

The hot dogs and pulled pork were nearly depleted by the end of the day, but fortunately unfortunately, there were left over cup cakes and ice cream, which means I have to eat a little every day to make room in my freezer, right?  

Monday, August 25, 2014

How Does My Garden Grow?

How does my garden grow?  Fast!  It's growing faster than I can find the time to process the food it's producing, which is a shame.  I'm having no trouble keeping up with the cherry tomatoes, but the few handfuls of beans I've picked so far didn't get eaten before they went bad, and I hate to waste my cool beans that way.  

You can see how the beans and the inevitable morning glory vines are finally utilizing the teepee.  The chicken wire wrapped around the base of the teepee was good a keeping the chickens out, but it also slows the beans from wrapping on the teepee since they first climb the chicken wire in a big tangle.  Next time, I won't put the chicken wire directly on the teepee legs, and I won't fill the center of my teepee with limbs.  Although, I do think it would be a great place to start a compost pile, which would really cut down on the hard to reach weeds in the middle. Hmm....

See all the beans hanging down?  The teepee works, but I may need to make some adaptations in the future.  Now, if I can only manage to get out there to harvest those beans!  I ate a few raw ones, and they taste good, just like green beans.  

The pumpkin is orange now, and even though the vine is looking sickly, it still has a few giant yellow blooms that open in the morning.  By the time I get home from work, the blooms are closed up.  Pumpkins go to bed early.  

And even though I planted my zucchini very late, I still managed to harvest a few.  Fortunately, I have enough friends that like to share over grown zucchini that I haven't been doing without while I waited for mine to begin producing.   

This morning I picked overripe tomatoes from the vines and pitched them right into the compost pile.  Mrs. Hall was happy, the fruit flies were happy, and the compost was happy, so I'm trying not to regret their loss.   If life gets too busy to pick tomatoes before they go bad, it's time to slow down, right?   There are still plenty for me to put on sandwiches and salads (or to eat standing over the kitchen sink like they are big juicy apples)!  In years past, I have even managed to make sauce and tomato jam.  It might be time to dust of the canning equipment.  Or maybe I'll just eat faster!  

Friday, August 22, 2014

Trinocular Case and a Pride of Cats

I have a new kitten!  When I told my mom, she asked where I got her and when, but also "why??".   Well, mostly because she was a scrawny little starving kitten with a giant purr who decided Brandon should be her rescuer.  If she had crawled from the tumbled down warehouse on the side of the highway were we parked for work, and approached me instead of him, she may have been left to fend for herself, since Brandon is less than enthusiastic about living with three cats.  But, she's a charmer, and when we returned to our truck, hours later, and she was still there to purr and rub on his ankles, I barely had to give a mournful look for my poor recently dead chicken and my lost Newt kitten before he was agreeing to stop at the nearest gas station for some kitten chow for the ride home.  Welcome home, new Newt!  As you can see in the photo above, she's already made friends with Ditto, and despite their age difference, they love to play.  

The kitten doesn't have any manners yet, so she was making it very hard for me to take pictures of my trinocular case.  The case was a Christmas gift from my mom.  When I opened the gift and held it up, dad asked "what is it, a trinocular case?" which cracked everybody up, and cemented it's new name.  

It's not really for carrying a trinocular, or even a  regular ole binocular, but for transporting wine bottles.  I joke that mom gave me a wine carrier that holds three bottles so each time I visit her I don't get stingy with the home brew.  

Here you can see it's fancy details - woven sides, alligator skin patterned ends, brass plates, and leather handle.  I feel quite stylish on my picnics now.  

From the top, you can see how the wooden holes hold the bottles apart so they don't clank together.  I've never seen a trinocular case in stores or in junk shops, so I feel like it must be a very unique item.  It's sturdy too, and very light weight.  

In this photo you can see that Max, my sixteen year old cat, is a little stand offish with the new kitten, but he hasn't had a violent reaction like he did when I got Ditto.  Maybe he's used to kittens now, or maybe he just didn't like boy kittens.  Only recently have I had three cats at the same time. I used to think that my house wasn't big enough for more than two.  Some (i.e. Brandon!) would say it's not big enough for one!  But, now I know that it doesn't matter how big my house is because all the cats are going to be where I am any way.  Having three is like being surrounded by an entire pride!  If I sit down, it takes only moments before all three are either on me or against me, according to their own place in the pride hierarchy.  I think I like it.  Maybe becoming the crazy cat lady is going to be great fun!  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Helen Was A Good Chicken, but Mrs. Hall has Problems

I scrolled through my photos to find the last photo of Helen, my good chicken.  I took the photo above near the end of July, with the goal of capturing the mist that was streaming from my bottle of homebrew when I popped the cork.  As usual, Helen and Mrs. Hall were at my feet waiting to see if I was going to share any of my goodies.  The camera focused on Helen's tiny red face instead of the beer exhaust.  In the photo, she is looking right into the eye of the camera, which was a very Helen thing to do.  She was always the boss chicken, and with that position comes not just the perk of always getting first dibs on fallen tasty bits and choice perch locations, but also the responsibility to be always a little wary, even of me, even after our more than five years together.  I was, after all, the egg thief and the only person rude enough to pick her up and pet her, whether she liked it or not.    

I used to have an entire bed of gladiolas, but I guess the extremely cold winter temperatures killed most of them.  These pretty pink and peach ones are showing off right now.  Someone told me once that they didn't like gladiolas because they reminded them of funerals.  I'm glad I don't have that association. 

It's a little strange to tour my summer blooms with only one chicken trailing after me.  Helen was dead when we returned from working out of town.  I don't know why she died.  

Mrs. Hall is still with me, of course, but I don't think she likes spending her days and nights alone, and I plan to bring a few young hens from mom's flock to be her buddies.  Maybe, since she will be the senior hen, she will get to be the boss now.  

We buried Helen in the garden, near the bean teepee and the uncontrollable morning glories.  Helen liked to eat morning glory blossoms, and since I have so many, she got to enjoy them all summer.  Now she can feed the morning glory vines.  Which will only make them stronger, I'm sure.  

When we pulled into the driveway, after being away from home for so many days, the first thing I noticed was Mrs. Hall waiting to greet me at the front gate.  I was excited to see her, but quickly realized something wasn't quite right.  First of all, why is Mrs. Hall in the front yard, and secondly, why is she alone?  They were never far from each other.  

The fence panel that I use to keep the chickens in the backyard had fallen over.  I called and called for Helen, and looked in all the usual nest spots, but couldn't find her, and it was getting dark.  The next morning, I could smell the stench of death, and it didn't take me long to find her under the lilac in the back corner.   After a hasty burial, Brandon and I left for another night away from home, and I worried about Mrs. Hall the whole time, especially since I noticed her backside was dirty, which means the dreaded prolapse was back.  

Once we returned, I was exited to see the hosta blooming along the front walkway, and even more relieved to see that Mrs. Hall had survived while I was away.  I promised her a bath and some Preparation H as soon as I could grab a spare moment.  

That night, about three o'clock in the morning, when I was trying in vain to force myself to sleep even though my circadian rhythms were (still are) jacked up from staying up catching bats, I heard Mrs. Hall squawking in the back yard.  I ran outside in my underpants to save her from whatever horrible beasty ate Helen, but all I saw was an upset hen and a swinging feeder bucket.  The air smelled like a skunk.  Could the food I left in the feeder for the chickens have lured in a skunk, which took a bite out of Helen?  Maybe.  

I brought the rescued Mrs. Hall into the garage to sleep in a crate, but before I placed her inside, I flipped her over to examine the prolapse.  Wha...? Oh, GROSS!  Have you ever heard of flystrike?  Well, apparently, any animal with a dirty backside is susceptible to fly bite and a deposit of fly eggs.  I'm talking about a wound with maggots!!  Standing there, barefoot and in my underwear in the middle of the night with only a feeble flashlight to illuminate the situation, after the recent demise of Helen, was not one of my best moments, let me tell you.  I thought for sure I would have to put Mrs. Hall down too, and all because I left them alone, unprotected, and unwashed.  It was a low moment, and didn't help me get to sleep.  

Fortunately, once the sun was up, I had mustered my sleep deprived reserves, done some googling about flystrike, and was determined to do my best to save Mrs. Hall.  Since chicken poop and maggots are the two most disgusting things on the the planet, I won't scar you with the details, but let me just offer some advise - if you ever have to do a maggot extraction on a chicken arse, the pointy end of one of Brandon's paintbrushes works pretty good (don't tell Brandon!), and maggots wiggle when doused with peroxide or iodine, which makes them easier to see.   

Now, several days later, Mrs. Hall is on the mend.  Even her prolapse has retreated.  I still put her in the crate at night, more for my own peace of mind than hers, I'm sure.   There's a reason real farmers don't make pets of their old hens.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pear Time and Plumbing Hurdle

There's something about watching pears ripen on a tree that makes me particularly conscious of the advancement of the season.  I think it is because it's a process that takes the entire growing season, and the slow change is more obvious than other plants.  I mean, I recognize that I have summer tomatoes now, when I used to have spring lettuce, and that the sunflowers are blooming instead of the columbine, but because the pear tree blooms early, and the tiny pears have been there since the very beginning of the greening, each time I see them I can calibrate my place in time.  

It's like the pears are reflecting the ripeness of the season, and the summer season is almost at it's capacity - the pears look like real pears!  I struggle now not to feel like the summer is escaping me.  Not only do I feel like time has escaped me, and that I'm past the halfway point of the summer, but the vegetation and the insects have passed the point of control.  The pears are ripening, so it's time to make sure I take advantage of the rest of the season, right.  It's time to take stock - have I got my fill of swimming, camping, grilling, digging, planting, sweating, itching, and sunburn?  Not yet!

The apples are turning red, for goodness' sake!  Apples equals pie, and we all know pie season is in the fall. We are progressing in our orbit, and the tilt is becoming obvious.   

Despite our lack of attention, we did make some progress on the little farm house before we were distracted by my job.  I think I like the photo above because for the first time the mess under the kitchen floor has some order to it.  This photo is taken through the kitchen floor, behind the shower.  See how nice and tidy the drains for the shower and the sinks (off to the left and right) are laid out, and how the hot water lines in red, and the cold water lines, in blue, go through the wall in the upper right corner.  

On the other side of the wall, Brandon is fashioning a manifold, so each line to a faucet can be turned on or off easily, from the small closet that will hold the hot water tank.  These pipes represent great progress in my mind.  Once we could see that we were conquering the carpentry and electricity, I knew the challenge of plumbing was the next big hurdle, and we are nearly over it.   

Monday, August 18, 2014

Coming off the Night Life

After a long stretch of travel and overnight stays for work, working through several weekends in a row to meet deadlines, I feel as though I have finally returned home.  Sigh... it's good to be back!  

This morning, as I left my house for a regular length work day in the office, I had moments were it was hard to adjust my thoughts for a work day  in which I get to come home.  I kept thinking of chores that needed to be done before I left, and then realizing that I can do those things after work.  Wow, after work is a great concept!

Since most of our recent work has involved staying up late catching bats, we are still struggling to switch from a night life to a morning life.  What would a team of nocturnals do if they saw carnival lights in the distance as they traveled down an interstate highway?  They would stop to ride the Ferris wheel, of course!

Since we arrived right before closing time, we got our tickets at a discount price, and got to ride the Ferris wheel twice before we hopped back on the highway.  It's been a long time since I have attended a county fair, but just like my memories, everything looks better from a distance.  The bright swirling lights were fantastic from the highway, and from the top of Ferris wheel, but when viewed up close the patina of dirt and obvious wear and tear on the machines, and the operators of the machines, added an extra dose of fear since I anticipated that the whole thing could just come rolling off at any minute.  Weeeeee!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Playing With My Food and How to Save Tomato Seeds

I have only managed to make it to the farmers market a single time this summer.  I like to stop at the small market that sets up in the parking lot of the bicycle shop that I pass on my way home from work.  The farmers are only there on Tuesdays, and I have to get there before six o'clock, and have cash.  Getting the stars to align like this is hard for me to do, and Kroger isn't so picky, but the food I buy at the farmers market is always so much more fun to play with, so I wish I shopped there more often.  After washing the assortment of cherry tomatoes that I purchased from the nice tomato lady, I couldn't resist taking their picture.  It's like having a bowl of colorful jewels.  Edible jewels!  

I enjoyed the variety of cherry tomatoes so much, I decided to save some seeds from each type, just for fun.  I was inspired to try saving the seeds by the man at the market who sold me a gigantic tomato.  He asked me if I liked to grow tomatoes, and when I said I did, he said the tomato I picked out was an heirloom and that if I liked it, I should smear some of the seeds on a paper towel, let it dry, label it, and then roll the paper towel into a plastic jar, and put it in the freezer.  He said that the seeds would keep fifty years when stored this way, and that when I was ready plant them, I should just soak the seeds in ten percent bleach solution for ten minutes, rinse the seeds in a strainer under the tap until I couldn't smell bleach any more, and then plant them.  

After seeing the size and variety of tomatoes this guy had for sale, I can only assume that he was a master tomato grower, and I was happy to take his seed saving advice.  Look at the size of this whopper!  I've never grown a tomato that weighs more than two pounds.  That's one big and ugly tomato!

But is it ugly, really?  From some angles, it was sort of a sexy tomato.  Oo la la!  

In this picture, it even looks kind of cute!  Awww, it's a tomato puppy... See what I mean, farmers market food is more fun to play with!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

View From My Office

Some days my office view is more picturesque than others!  I spend a lot of time in a work truck traveling to and from job sites, and it doesn't take long for the cab of the truck to feel like a mobile office space seated in a grungy mini warehouse.  Now that so much of my gear is technological, like camera's, cell phones, lab tops, and various GPS devices, the dashboard always has a tangle of wires and electricity converters.  Eating on the go means every cup holder is filled with wrappers and apple cores, and the mix of mud, bugs, and other out door debris in the floor boards gives my mobile office a very rustic patina.  Soggy gear and sweaty muck boots, hip boots, and chest waders behind the seats can create a rustic aroma too.  Bleck!  But the views, the views can be lovely.  Lately, we've been working in an area of National Forest that has honest to goodness covered bridges.  Cool. 

The inside of the covered bridges is very intricate woodwork.  As cool as they look in the day time, they still give me a creepy Sleepy Hollow vibe when driving through them at night.  I realize the chances are slim that we will emerge from the other end to find ourselves thrown back into the past, or into an alternate universe of magic and monsters, but still, I'm a little nervous every time.  

Even the views from the break room are sometimes amazing!  I don't always get to watch tug boats moving long rows of barges down the river while I enjoy barbecue lunch, but when I do I try to savor those moments.  They almost make up for having to eat subway sandwiches for dinner five days in a row! 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Brandon's Magic and The Bat's Bling

After spending the past seven nights sitting in the forest waiting for bats to fly into our nets, Brandon has finally perfected the magical skill of leaf levitation!  The trick to it is to concentrate his mental energies while using the beam from his headlamp to force a leaf to hover above his open palm.  And it helps to make a funny face while doing it.  

It's that time of year again - bat season!  I look forward to it, and dread it, every year.  This year Jamie has been handling the bulk of the bat surveys while I focused on other work, so I was feeling relieved to be home and also a little jealous that I was missing out on all he bat fun.  I'm pretty sure the two week stint I have been assigned will be more than enough to satisfy all my bat survey desires. 

See, it's magic!  As the magicians assistant, I can not reveal his secrets, but if you guess the answer I will let you know.

The bat in the photo above is a female northern long-eared bat.  We captured her in our mist net as she swooped down to take a drink from a puddle of water in a rut on a dirt road through the forest.  Or maybe she was chasing a bug near the water.  Either way, she flew into my net, and I was able to identify her, weigh her, check her condition, and put the small metal band on her arm that you can see on the left side of the photo, near my thumb.

If you've never looked closely at a bats wing, it's worth doing when you get a chance.   Notice the short upper arms that come from her shoulders, the bend in the arm that is the elbow,  and the long forearm, to which I attached the band. At the end of the forearm, near my thumbs in the photo, is the wrist and hand with a little clawed thumb that is sticking up on the right side of the photo.  When bats crawl they use this little thumb as a hook to pull themselves.  The four fingers are extremely long, even longer than their arms, and are connected to each other by the wing membrane.  The wing membrane also connects the pinkie finger to the side of the foot near the baby toe.   I wonder, how weird would it be if I had fingers longer than my arms, and my hands were connected to my feet by a big flap of skin?  Very weird, but worth it if it meant I could fly.  Having a tail that was also connected to my foot might be too weird!

In this photo, you can see how she folds her fingers down along her forearm and her little thumbs are dangling down.  She doesn't seem to appreciate her new bracelet, or her photo shoot, and is letting me know by chewing on my ring finger. I can't blame her though, because I'm not a fan of jewelry I can't ever take off either.  I feel like chewing on my own ring finger when I struggle to remove my wedding ring these days, so I know how she feels.  

The band has a number that will be entered into a database so that if she is ever found in a cave, we can know how far she flies to her winter and summer habitats.  Not much is known about the migratory patterns of bats, so putting bands on bats helps fill in the blanks.

This little guy is a big brown bat.  He's calmly waiting in the bottom of a paper sandwich bag after he was just weighed.  See his cute little thumbs sticking off his wrists?  He is squinting his eyes because I am shining my light in his face.  It's hard to get a good photo with eyes open because of my headlamp.  Poor bats probably always fly away from me seeing spots.  

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