Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wayward cows and Halloween mysteries...

I went out to my car this morning and found Brigid and Gilly muching on the front lawn. (Happily, I might add.) I thought they finally got up the gumption to jump five feet over the still broken electric fence. But I since was racing out the door, I ran inside to get the mighty man and let him deal with it. (I was late.)

When I came home I found him in the middle of a new project that appeared to be far off the long list of problems caused by this week's lightning strike.

Apparently Brigid and Gilly escaped because a Douglass Fir came down and smashed the fence in the lower pasture. It took two trees with it on the way down. I was just out there yesterday and the tree was standing and the fence was fine. It must have fallen in the night.

Didn't take long for those two bovine high-steppers to wander right through the branches and find their way to green grass. (Confirming their suspicion that the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence!)

A closer investigation found the giant Doug fir next to fallen tree had bad scarring down the entire length of it. Here's an example of the scar....
At first I thought the one tree had damaged the other on the way down but then I looked up a hundred feet or so and saw the same kind of damage running all the way down the tree, way higher than the other tree could have caused. Hmm, this is getting way more mysterious by the minute.

It almost looked like the giant fir got hit by a lightning strike too. Could we have had two lightning strikes in one storm?

But then why would it have taken few days for the smaller tree to fall over? And why would the smaller tree have fallen at all.
The fallen tree was cracked and split in a funny spirally way that this picture doesn't show. It looked to me like the tree was forced apart.
I guess that is a mystery we will never solve.
In the meantime, we are getting a headstart on next year's pile of firewood and the beginnings of a new woodland compost pile out of the deal. Too bad though, we liked the tree.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Update on the cow situation....

So, in case you are wondering, Andrew the AI (artificial insemination) guy made his second trip out here today. And with his usual amazing dexterity, he whipped out the giant implant he had placed inside her last week. This thing is huge--I want to say 5 inches wide (maybe 4 but usually I am pretty good at guessing sizes) and it had a LONG tail. He grabbed that puppy and yanked. In less time than it took for me to figure out what he was doing, he was done and successfully dodging kicks. Then 30 seconds later he was done giving her three shots and sent her on her way with a pat on the bum. I was going to get pictures but I was holding the rope that controlled her head, which meant he only had to dodge her kicks and not her horns too. So, sorry, no pictures.

On Monday, he will come again for the third time and inpregnate (hopefully successfully) her with the goods from either a Dexter or Angus papa. We still have to decide. She's a small cow, but she birthed like a champ her first time so he thinks she could handle the big boy Angus. There are a LOT of decisions a cow person has to make, and to tell you the truth, I don't really know enough to be making them. I'm trying to learn though.

This time (because of that learning curve) we are going to have Andrew back out in a couple of months to make sure the AI process worked. No waiting a year hoping. That was last year's learning mistake!

Because last year's efforts were for naught, and we now are starting over, I decided I didn't want to wait the almost three years it would take to have Brigid's future baby be our milking mama (9 months for the baby to be born, 15-18 months for the baby to grow big enough to get pregnant, and another 9 months for her baby to be born), I am looking for another mama cow. This, of course has me scouring websites and Craig's list and asking everyone I know who knows about cows if they know of a good cow for me to buy. I'll let you know when I find her. Exciting.

Pre-Halloween Spooks

Our big news this week is that our house got struck by lightning. ZAP, BOOM, BANG. Loudly struck by lightning. It raised the hair on our arms and made our hearts beat fast. Seriously, we could feel the electricity jetting around in our bodies.

At first it was kind of exciting, especially since we hadn't figured out that it hit the house. The power went out and we lit zillions of candles and sat around in the dark talking. It's so quiet when the electricity is out.
Aidan finished his homework and did his foot exercises by candlelight. We watched it snowing out the window and marvelled when it is October in Western Washington after all. And then, after all that excitement we went to bed.

About two o'clock in the morning, the power came on (just like the lineman who arrived within an hour of the lightning strike said it would). The blown transformer was replaced and we thought all was well. We went back to sleep happily thinking "Ah, that's done." No eight days without power again (like what happened last year). Six hours, esp when you are asleep for three of them, is a breeze. It was odd though that there was a LOUD cracking noise when the power came on. That had never happened to us before. But we ignored that and went blissfully back to sleep.

We woke up to the battery powered alarms we had set the night before and headed downstairs, thinking to reset the clocks and then start our day like normal. Not.

First clue something was off, the toaster wasn't working, and neither were most of the plugs in the kitchen. Hmm. Wandering a little bit deeper into the house we find that the office computer is fried, as is the surge protector and the modem. Hmm, no internet, no computer, no toast. What about the phones? Nope, no phones.

Then we think, what about the outbuildings. So we bundle up and troup out into the snow to see. The freezers are dead but half the electricity is on in the shop so Steve rigs power to the freezers and they are up again. Phew, I won't be having to run the generator on and off all day to keep all our meat frozen. And I won't be having to figure out what to do with three freezers worth of food because the freezers got fried in the surge. That's a relief.

Next stop, the barn. Whoops, the box that is the mastermind for the electric fences is literally BLOWN APART with pieces of plastic laying all the way around the barn. Luckily, all the animals are okay. They are standing awfully close to the fence though. I wonder if they know.

We then check out the 'mother-in-law'--don't ask how that weird building got named, I have NO idea. Hmm, the lights work but the extra fridge is shot and half the plugs don't work. On to the chicken coop.
There the light is blown and a socket destroyed but what is most amazing is the 2 X 4 that the light was mounted on was blown off the wall. This is a 2 X 4 that the mighty man attached--the one whose mythical construction firm I lovingly call Fred Flintsone's Designs because everything he makes is overbuilt. You can bet that there were many nails holding that board on, and guess what they were all bent! Wish I had a picture of that.

The power in the woodshed is gone and in the original (uninsured) cabin behind the basketball court.

We still keep discovering things that are broken. Our insurance adjuster said this was normal for a lightning strike. All in all, we have a lot to fix or replace; but we SO happy that is all we are doing. Things could have been much, much worse.

ps here's some proof of the pre-halloween SNOW!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Spinning my wheels out there.

Not quite sure where the time goes. Last time I looked it was Tuesday and here it is Saturday morning. It was one of those weeks were I felt really busy but looking back at it I wonder what I was busy doing. I did go on a beautiful walk up the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie.

Every other spare moment I had I spent working out in the garden getting it ready for fall. One of my classic gardening mistakes is not planning for the fall when I plant in the spring. It would make my fall jobs much, much easier if all the plants I planned to winter over were in one place, Meaning all the kale, collards, swiss chard, leeks, carrots and parsnips were planted in a chunk.

If I did that then it would be simple to clear away the corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, tomatillos, basil, onions, flowers and such and plant my cover crops. As it is, I am digging a couple of feet here and a couple of feet there and gingerly working around the roots of the plants I plan to hold onto as long as possible. My cover crops (this year: buckwheat, beesom clover and rye grass) get planted in dribs and drabs and never really get all over large chunks of the garden. Here's what they look like just coming up:

See the problem (and this is easily the good news too) is that my garden will happily keep feeding us for months to come and maybe all winter if we don't have another hard freeze like we did last winter. Usually, I can keep us in greens and some veggies all winter.
Right now (just after our first killing frost) we are eating parsnips, brocolli, carrots, leeks, three kinds of kale, rainbow chard, collards, beet greens, argula and a few varieties of hardy winter lettuces that I can't remember the names of. All these greens come from Wild Garden Seeds, which has fast become my favorite seed company in the world. I wish I could buy all my seeds from them. The quality (vitality) difference in plants grown from their seeds is astonishing,

Last year, with its month of bone-chilling in the teens or lower kind of frost, was unusual. Greens will stand temperatures in the 20's, even for a few weeks, but they don't like temperaures under 20. We lost our whole winter garden during that infamous icy spell. We also had an ice dam on our mudroom roof that poured water straight into the house and our pipes under the house and to the barn froze solid. That was a first. Guess it really was cold as it felt.

But anyway, I have been digging away and not making much visible progress. Better get at it. If I don't get those cover crops in soon (as in last week) they aren't going to get a chance to grow.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

No, No, No

It's a day of NOs.

No puppy. The folks who have her don't believe in putting puppies on planes. Probably good for the puppies but sad for me.

No baby cow. Brigid wasn't pregnant then, never had her baby and is not pregnant now. The AI guy is on the way but hasn't been able to coordinate schedules with us yet so that process has yet to begun. (It takes a couple of weeks of shots and implants and such to get that going.)

No butcher. He's full up until December so sweet Gilly has a reprieve until then.

What we do have are plenty of sunsets and gorgeous trees glowing in all kinds of colors.
There's fresh honey in jars and autumn flowers are filling vases all throughout the house. And mighty man has been busy building fences so we are soon to have a new area that will eventually become pasture.

We have a happy dog, a determined cat and a boy who always brings a smile. Life is good.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Puppy Love

If you don't hear from me for awhile, it is because I am lost in puppyland, looking at puppy pictures. After days of searching, here is my favorite. Isn't she cute? And she has the puppy name of my old beloved dog Angie and one of her littermates is named Aidan. Don't you think it is a sign. I do. Too bad she is in New York. Trying to figure out how to make that one work. It is a long way to drive.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The renegade rooster comes home

This week whizzed by in a blur of weather and chaos. Digging up the onions and shallots I found a beautiful leek blossom. Guess I will have to make some potato leek soup tonight to celebrate the big allium harvest. When I was digging out there this morning the sweetest little green frog hopped right by. It was only 3/4 of an inch long and was bright, spring green. So cute.

The biggest excitemt of the week though involved the chickens. I haven't a clue how but one of our roosters escaped from the chicken run. It was kind funny because he didn't have any idea what to do with himself without his ladies. So all day long, and I mean ALL DAY long, he hung out under one of the rhodie bushes crowing enthusiastically for the girls. They, of course, were happily ensconced behind the fence of the chicken run eating so they couldn't be bothered to even try come meet their man.

He tried all kinds of alluring sounds that sounded like he was saying "Please honey, please honey. Meet me under the bush." But nothing was working. He moped and scratched for food dejectedly, every once in a while taking a majestic stroll around the dooryard. In twenty years of keeping chickens I have never heard more racket out of one bird. If nothing else he was impressive in his amorous longings. Here's what a chicken looks like all mopey.

After five days of constant racket and no response, I found him standing right outside the chicken run fence begging to be let in. I went to open the door, which usually causes a renegade chicken to run fast as possible in the opposite direction, but he waited patiently and ran inside as soon as he could fit through the opening. Poor guy, guess his plans for freedom didn't work out exactly like he planned.

This morning I heard the ladies complaining loudly after our sex-starved friend made up for lost time. These roosters certainly take their duties very seriously.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Winter is closing in.

The temperature dropped 15 degrees since morning. Strong winds blow. Stepping outside chills my bones. Inside there is a garden stew simmering on the stove--carrots, leeks, parsley, onions and lamb from the farm and a friend's well grown potatoes. Hearty food to feed the soul. I'm sipping jasmine tea with fresh honey from the bees, gathered the last free day warm enough to open the hives.

It's funny how everything can change in a night.

Yesterday I was walking around in flipflops. Today I have on wool socks and three layers on top. Steve's been out working on the fence line for hours, trying to shore it up before it gets too wet to drive the truck out there. Everything around me is saying winter is coming, winter is coming. Prepare.

I love the longer, darker nights, the cool temperatures and drinking tea. But I do miss that last warm day. The one where you lay on the grass and feel the heat rising into your bones, penetrating your very core, The earth's gift to keep you warm all winter long.

Today as I was driving home from town I thought of this haiku:

Gray skies, mountain mists
Leaf sparks dance-red, orange, gold
Winter whispers soon.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Creativity blowing in the wind...

Nobel prizes going to men who worry they don't deserve them and who then challenge the American people to make the promise of this prize come true, 14 year old boys who use down home ingenuity to change their family's life and end up on the stage at TED. It's a good day to remember we have much more power than we think. Click here to watch this inspiring TED video of a now 22 year old man who, at 14, built a windmill that changed his family's life. Wow. If you don't know about TED, after you watch this video you might want to take a few minutes to wander around. There is some pretty amazing stuff in their archives. And while you are doing that I am off to Salem to hear Miss Heidi Mae sing her heart out.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why we dig our garden beds 3 feet down!

I just came in from one of my favorite chores--overturning a double dug bed. I love it because it is so easy. Five minutes and a whole bed is done. Double digging, while a lot of work to begin with, makes future digging a breeze. And I like that.

This spring, Becca, my trusty stunt double, went out to the vegetable garden to start double digging our beds. We used to garden exclusively in double dug beds but when we moved out here and quadrupled our garden size we thought we needed to till. It seemed like too much to dig.

But after ten years watching our soil not be as delicious as we like, we decided to switch back to our old reliable form of preparing the soil--double digging and cover crops.

Here's the thing, rototilling is like running your soil through a blender. All the little friendly microbes and soil beings get turned on their heads and chewed up (so to speak). What's on top ends up on the bottom and vice versa. In the short run, rototilling is a quick solution to a big problem. But in the long run it destroys healthy soil biology which is the essence of soil fertility. And soil fertility is what determines how nutritious the food you grow is and how healthy the plants are. Healthy plants have a lot fewer pests and problems. Here's a picture of what soil looks like when it has had repeated rototilling. This guy is getting a shallow turn
instead of a deep dig like the turn of a fork would give. Most likely his soil has deep level compaction.


Ten years of rototilling has created more and more problems in my garden. Even with regular, hefty doses of biodynamic compost, leaf mulch, and all the other lovely soil building things I do, the texture of our garden soil was not improving. It dried out easily and parts of it were like a rock mid-summer--the same parts that looked gorgeous after the rototiller went by in the spring.

When I did the ultimate test of soil fryablity (throwing a fork in the ground and seeing how far the tongs descend), my garden failed abysmally. This isn't surprising, not after what I have been learning about soil health lately. But it took experiencing it first hand for me to really understand the full extent of the damage rototilling was causing to the soil.

Now don't get me wrong...our soil was fine. Way better than most, its just that I have big ideas. I want the best.

Hence my resolution to go back to double digging not matter how long it took us to dig the beds. Becca worked hard whenever she could this spring and got about a quarter of the garden dug. What a difference. Here's what the garden looked like in the beds she dug. AMAZING growth, bad picture. It looks like mayhem rather than a garden but trust me we have been eating out of this patch of garden every day for 6 months and there is no end in sight. Here's a kale plant that was as tall as I was and delicous too.
You may be wondering how to double dig a bed. I'll explain but first let me explain what the term double digging means. It refers to digging at least twice the depth of the blade of a spade, or in some cases twice the depth of the topsoil (that is if you have a LOT of topsoil). We learned to double dig from a great book by John Jeavons--How To Grow More Vegetables. He is THE urban/small plot gardening guru as far as I am concerned. I have had his book since the early 80's. Mine is in tatters from so much use, but you can still buy it new. It's a classic.

Anyway, back to the digging, after years of double digging we kind of have our own system that is reminiscent of John Jeavons but we made it our own and boy does it work. This is what we do:

You will need a spade, a fork, fresh cow manure, and some leaves or other organic matter.

1) dig off the topsoil and place it in a pile near where you are digging but out of the way.
2) keep digging through the subsoils and put that soil in a separate pile (important because you want your topsoil to end up on top)
3) dig about 3 feet down, making a straight sided pit (this is deeper than traditional double digging)
4) layer 6-8 inches of fresh (if possible, bagged if not) cow manure across the bottom of the pit I have tried other manures and in my opinion, it is worth the effort to find cow manure.
5) add 6-8 inches of organic plant matter--sometimes I use leaves, sometimes rotten hay, sometimes things from the garden, my favorite is leaves.
6) layer the subsoil back on carefully knocking any clumps apart with the fork
7) layer the topsoil back on top, carefully declumping as above
8) layer 3-4 inches of biodynamic or other organic compost on top of the bed
9) fork the compost into the topsoil
10) shape the bed into a nice rounded shape
11) plant as soon as possible with either your garden plants or a cover crop

Using this method, you will soon have a couple feet of gorgeous topsoil. Loose, fryable, and ready to grow anything.

I know it sounds like a lot of work, but if it gives you tender brocolli shoots like these every night of the week it's worth it. And then the next season, when all you have to do is lightly turn it over with a fork, then it is REALLY worth it!! If you are skeptical, just dig one bed at a time and see what you think, Bet you will be convinced. This cabbage was more than enough to convince me. Biodynamics and double digging are my garden heros.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Chicken butts...

Yesterday, I saw the funniest thing. Well, at least, I thought it was funny.

When I looked out the kitchen window when I was cooking dinner I caught sight of a chicken butt disappearing through the back fence. That fence is just a simple cedar rail fence, easy enough for a chicken to hop through. But what made me laugh was the way the chicken hopped up on the rain and leaned way over the rail. Hanging on with its chicken toes, the entire bird was head down on the fence rail. Looked just like a gymnast doing a trick on the high bar. All I could see was its rump feathers tipped straight up in the air as it hung, almost suspended in mid-air.

Wonder if that was as fun for the chicken as it was for me?

Chickens are better than Netflix, ever so entertaining

Friday, October 2, 2009

Quiet, quiet morning

It is perfectly quiet here this morning. No roosters crowing, no sheep baaing, no cows mooing. The only sounds I can hear are the gentle noises of the fire coming from the woodstove.

I always wonder what makes the difference between mornings. Why are some so quiet and others so raccous? I try to take the cue from the animals and adjust my day accordingly. If they are quiet, I allow a little extra space for quiet in my day too. It's nice.

Today, I have a long list--apples and more apples. Plus the last of the peaches and nectarines to process. But for now, I am going to let this quiet soak into my bones. There is plenty of time later for activity.