Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nope, not yet...

Just so you know, no baby cows yet. I did however see the last year's baby boy calf carrying on with the goat. What was up with that? He must be very confused. The mama cows were off in the woods all day. Never did see them tonight. I hope that means something good, but I hate to get too hopeful.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Waiting...

While you guys have been WAITING for me not to be such a lazy bones and write another blog post, I have been waiting for Brigid to have a baby. She kind of looks like the Goodyear blimp--very, very round in the middle.

Hopefully this time she will actually have a baby. Remember we were waiting last year too and she tricked us. Lots of stomach, no baby. This year we had the very best intentions to get that AI guy back out and check her to make sure she was pregnant but we forgot (again) and now here it is time for her to have that baby and we still don't know. So we are waiting.

Everyday I go out and peek and everyday she glares at me. She is running around like a fool in spring. I am assuming that is a bad sign. The thing we have going for us is before the AI guy came this time, Steve took her aside and said 'Brigid, either get pregnant this time or you are going in the freezer." He can be pretty convincing when he says things like this.

The other day I told Steve she definitely looked fat enough to be pregnant but he reminded me she was eating for 4....meaning that she keeps all the other cattle from eating their dinners. Quite a power monger, she has to be the boss and she has to eat first--at all four feeding stations!

It's pretty hilarious actually. She runs from feeding station to feeding station flailing her horns around, taking a bite or two at each one hoping to keep others from eating. They look on mournfully knowing if they try to ease their way in she will whack them with her horns. Even the ones with horns give way she has them so bullied. There is nothing like being the queen bee, I'd say. Even when you are a cow.

Unfortunately for her, this practice has made her quite portly...and the other cows quite fit. Someday she is going to look down and see she has lost her girlish figure and understand that eating first isn't all that it is cracked up to be.

But in the meantime, she is eating and we are waiting. I will let you know if anything exciting happens.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rain, and more rain







Yesterday was gorgeous. Not a cloud in the sky. Aidan was mostly better from his beginning of school cold. Heidi was home from college to celebrate her b'day (next Friday) and bring back Grace's car (probably the REAL reason she came home). Grace got in from China--she's here for a brief visit to gather all the wedding presents still here (as she flew away without them after the wedding). Becca and Seth came over for dinner and we had a rousing good time. Lots of food and especially lots of cake. Since it is Grace's b'day next Monday we had a combined birthday bash. Steve made a gluten free chocolate raspberry cake and I made a combo birthday girl cake--angel food cake with german chocolate pecan frosting. Cake+ice cream+ silly kids+many world problems to solve=lots of fun and energized conversations.

Meanwhile while we were celebrating the rain came back. It drenched the laundry and brought back out the slugs. Seems like November around here only a little warmer...in the 50-60's instead of the 40-50's. Other than that, not much cooking in these parts. All these pictures are from yesterday. PS sorry the pictures are in the wrong order. I was having trouble moving them around and well, this is what you get. xo

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The best laid plans....otherwise known as Tomato Craziness


This year I had plans, big plans. I was going to grow an entire year's worth of tomatoes and maybe more. I has plans to can, freeze and dry them and make all kinds of other tomato goodness out of them. I did it last year. Why not this year? But then came the summer and the rain and the severe lack of heat. And then the blight. All my happy planning, planting and tending grew luscious lively green plants and three ripe tomatoes. Pathetic.

For awhile I moped around feeling very sorry for my tomato loving self. But then I pulled myself together and started making trips to the farmer's market and buying organic tomatoes by the lug. AFter a couple of weeks I had processed 125 pounds of these red beauties. Right after the Weston-Price buying club I recently joined had a tomato buy. A dollar a pound for 2# (cosmetically challenged) organic tomatoes. How could I beat that? So I bought another 40 pounds. And then, I got an order I had placed a long time before from our organic fruit guy and brought home another 40 pounds of the best non-homegrown cooking tomatoes I have ever tasted. Okay. I admit I got carried away...but honestly we will eat them and be glad. Already we have had two homemade pizza nights. And there will be more to come I am sure.

I bet you are wondering what I did those 200+ pounds. It went quicker than you think.

First, I washed and ground the original 100 pounds in my cuisinart. I put the ground tomatoes in quart ziplock bags and froze them as is for cooking. It takes less than an hour to wash and process 25 pounds. Pretty darn quick.

Next I dried the remaining 25 pounds of farmer's market tomatoes using my tomato chip recipe which is detailed in the Fifteen Minutes of Heaven post if you scroll down here
It takes me less than an hour to prepare 25 pounds for the dryer and a few minutes here and there to check on them.

After that, I started getting creative. With 10 pounds of the buying club tomatoes I made a tomato paste from a recipe shared by somebody in the club. I guess the recipe was originally created by Bruce Naftaly of Le Gourmand in Seattle. It is simple and delicious...thank you Elisabeth for sharing and Bruce for creating..

Tomato Paste

2 lbs paste tomatoes
1/2 c or more red wine

start with 1/2 c of red wine. add tomatoes and cover. bring to a boil.
once boiling, uncover, and reduce heat to simmer. simmer about 60 min.
put through food mill. should yield about 1 c of paste.

It took me a little longer to cook it down but I started with regular tomatoes and not the paste tomatoes. I suspect it took twice as long to cook. I also added a titch of himalayan salt.

While that was cooking I sliced up the remaining 30 pounds and half dried them. This was a recipe from another friend that I tried last year and loved. It is simple to do and makes cooked tomato sauces divine...somehow the double drying and freezing technique makes the flavors extra rich. It took me a little over an hour to do 30 pounds.

Half-dried Tomatoes

Slice tomatoes in four even slices and fill the dehydrator. Let them dry about half time so they are smaller but still are fleshy. I would tell you how long but each dehydrator is different. Then carefully move the half dried slices to cookies sheets to freeze solid and then put them in ziplock bags in the freezer. This extra step ensures you can just grab a few when it is time to cook. Use liberally when cooking with tomatoes. (Can't get much easier than that!)

And finally, today I got even more adventurous by making the last 40 pounds of tomatoes into the roasted tomato sauce recipe from my new friend Heidi P. Of all the tomato recipes I made, these smell the best. Again, this is a super easy recipe that just takes time and patience.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Cover the bottom of a pyrex or other thick baking pan with paste tomatoes that have been sliced in half the long way. Make a thick pile, about as much as the pan can hold.

Drizzle olive oil and himalayan salt over the top and then sprinkle with fresh herbs (I used basil, oregano and thyme).

Add liberal amounts of fresh garlic cloves.

Bake at 220 degrees until all the extra water is gone. Stir occasionally and keep cooking on a low heat until the tomatoes are the consistency that you like. You can cool and then freeze in useful amounts or can if you like. If you can remember you will need to add citric acid to acidify for safety. With the herbs and garlic and oil, I figure I would rather be safe than sorry so I froze it.

I am sure there are many other delicious ways to preserve tomatoes for winter. What's your favorite way?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Queen of the Flies

I love September. I love harvesting from the garden. I love pickling, jamming, jarring, cooking, and freezing all that I harvest. I love watching my pantry and freezer go from full to bursting. I love the smells. I love the colors. I just love September. But what I don't love are the flies.

Seems like every September we have too many flies around here. Buzzing and hanging off the walls watching everything I do. Landing near me, on me. Yuck. I don't like to think about it and I don't like to deal with it. But that doesn't make them go away. And this year, because it is so cold outside we have even more than usual. I feel like Queen of the Flies (not to be confused with Queen of the Bees which is a movie you really should see when it comes to your town!)

Usually I have a live and let live sort of temperament when it comes to bugs. This year, however, the flies have finally gotten to me. Armed with the ZAPPER (a wonderful electric orange tennis racket), I have been wandering around the house zapping all the flies I can get. It makes a horrible sound and smell and makes me feel even worse (though I suppose the fly wins in the feel bad department). I just couldn't take it anymore. I have become a mass murderer of flies. I would give you photographic proof but that would embarrass me too much. Owning up to it is about all I can take.

So welcome to my life this monday morning....amazing tomato paste simmering on my stove and me ducking the fly bombers.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I'm back--hopefully

Well, I admit it. I disappeared from the blogosphere. Completely. It has been months and I haven't even opened this blog page once. I didn't even know how long it had been. I have been busy. Honest. And maybe not in the mood. But today, I am back.

Let me explain...the last time I posted it was right before Aidan's birthday. So there was the birthday. And that happens at planting time, so there was planting, digging and hauling of compost to be done. And then I went to Brazil for a couple of weeks so there was the getting ready for the trip, the trip and the recovering from the trip. (It's a big trip!) And then right on the heels of Brazil was THE WEDDING. The wedding took weeks to get ready for and recover from. And in those weeks there was also the family reunion--FUN. Loved that. Though I did feel SUPER guilty about how hard the wedding ended up working everyone. I really didn't get that in advance and I apologize in reverse.

And then there was catching up from the wedding and reunion and the trip...meaning my garden went to hell from neglect. And then there was a busy summer full of day camp (not that I do any of the work but it does mean a LOT of extra people in my space all the time). And then school started and I was still trying to salvage my garden and fill our pantry and freezer. Did the latter two but the garden is just a mess. One big pile of buttercups. (See the previous post if you want an explanation.)

So that leaves me here, today. Ready to be back. And with not much to say except one big whiney apology. Can you forgive me? Hope so.

The most exciting thing that has happened lately (besides everything I was whining about up there) is the cow went on walkabout. Steve went to feed her yesterday morning and NO Brigid. Now this is a girl who LOVES her food. I have seen her literally charge down a pasture to get a handful of greens that are dangling over the fence. She loves to eat.

So let's just say she has never, ever missed breakfast before. When she didn't show up, Steve was alarmed. He trekked all over heck and gone (meaning through the blackberries and woods) as fast as he could (he was rapidly getting late for work) and couldn't find her. Naturally I was appointed relief chief cow catcher.

I wasn't too worried for some reason and I had a LOT of things already on my list so I decided to let her wander home on her own and give her a few hours to do so. I adopted this attitude partly because I know how hard it is to get her to do anything she doesn't already agree to and I figured if she was dining in the woods, she wasn't going to leave until she was done.

After I got back from my 347 errands and things to do on the official 'things to do list', I ate lunch and went a looking. First I looked from the car because before when she has jumped the fence she has found her way through the woods and onto our neighbor's lawns. I don't think they like that too much. These neighbors are also far enough away it is much quicker to look by vehicle than on foot. She wasn't anywhere to be found on the road back through the woods, so I came home put on my big blackberry-proof boots and headed out into the woods to look. First of course, looking to see if she was back. She was not.

I traipsed through all kinds of thickets and brambles and open spots of woods (ahhh). But of course, NO COW! I had visions of search and rescue teams fanning out in the 2 million acres of woods that are adjacent to our house and of never finding the cow. My imagination was going wild. The more arduous the walk through the blackberries became, the more dramatic my imaginings were. Let's just say I came up with some pretty amazing scenarios...including rescuing cows by helicopters for one.

After a LONG time, I was just about to give up. I went back to the barn to give Mattie a great big hello (she was standing in her stall quite happily) when who should poke her innocent nose out of the other barn door and peer at me with those big brown eyes of hers--Brigid.. And to tell you the truth she was looking much more ornery than innocent.

I guess I can say alls well that ends well but honestly cows can be worse than goats sometimes.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A meditation in Gold


I wrote the following a few years ago after a particularly long spring of digging buttercups. I just came in from hoeing down those golden beauties and thought I would share what I wrote so long ago. It is surely still true today.

A Meditation in Gold

I am drowning in a sea of buttercups. Each spring their fecundity catches me unaware. By summer, I’ve spent untold hours digging them out of my gardens. When autumn comes, I throw up my hands in defeat as they spread their seeds with joyous promiscuity.

An occasional wildflower where I was raised, buttercups now rule my visual world. Left untended they stake their claim across my farmstead. Buttercups are surprisingly domineering. One summer of weeding left undone and an entire flower garden disappears.

“It’s only because the soil is too wet,” the nurseryman says.

Hmm, I think. That spot wasn’t filled with buttercups when we moved in. Did they bring their water with them when they grew?

Once my garden-loving aunt came to visit when we were new to our farm. Seeing all the buttercups she marveled at their sun-crested beauty. “I’d let them grow, they’re such pretty little things.” she said as she fawned over their yellow fairy cups.

“Maybe,” I hesitantly ventured. “But don’t you think there are an awful lot of them?”

Little did I know. The previous owners must have struggled to remove every trace of buttercups from all cultivated areas before they sold the farm. What harm could a few (hundred) stragglers cause? And so, I let them be.

Now seven years later, the tide has truly come in. Hundreds became thousands and thousands became -- dare I say -- millions. The lower pasture, once filled with lush grass, is now a golden meadow of delight, except the sheep would much rather eat grass than buttercups so what am I to do? The buttercups steadily encroach upon any area of disturbed or wet ground (like my vegetable garden, where I can pull ten gallons a day week after week and not make a dent).

I rail against their bright spirit as they haunt my days with their ever-present vitality. Their sheer numbers render me helpless. How can I rid my garden of them? And yet, if I stop flailing against this tide and relax into the flow, something mysterious happens. They throw me a lifeline. Instead of me subduing them, their passionate wildness reaches out to buoy me along. Buttercups become my meditation

Like early morning sirens, they lure me from my bed. I find them wherever I wander with my trusted fork and a five-gallon bucket in hand. Each morning I gather bucket after bucket of these golden weeds. The buttercups are my excuse to be with the green, growing earth beneath me. The peace of the land penetrates my cells as I silently work the soil. I place each plant into my bucket with care, an offering from the stillness of my heart.

Buttercups have taught me the power of surrender as they alternately yield to and wrestle with my fork. They cling to their home with tenacious intent. Roots of steel, I have often thought. Yet, there is a sense of knowing when and how to pull that gently persuades them to relinquish their earthly connection. If I fight them the stalks snap in my hand, and the buttercups re-emerge with vigor. But if instead, I soften, melding myself to their essential nature, I know just where to pull and how. They literally slip from the soil into my hand. Their surrender originates in mine. When we meet as one, the plant yields and soon my bucket is full.

I give thanks for this practice as I bring my chickens their daily breakfast of fresh greens. The hens happily devour their morning treat, graciously transforming the weeds into eggs with yolks as rich and golden as the flowers. Unlike me, my chickens have no difficulty with their profusion in my yard. They welcome every buttercup they meet.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Apple socka and late frosts

I just came in from the orchard with sad news. The late frosts kept most of our fruit from setting. There are a few cherries, some apples and some plums but there are MANY trees with no fruit at all. Very sad.

I was investigating the trees so closely because I went out to put little tiny nylon socks on the baby apples. This sounds goofy I know, but I was doing it to prevent apple maggots. We had a few last year and I decided to nip this problem in the bud (so to speak).

Apple maggots are as common as apples in this part of Western Washington. So, it isn't surprising we got them, but I still want to figure out how to help them not choose our apples for their homes. I decided to try a two pronged approach of ridding the orchard of them.

First approach are the goofy looking little nylon socks. Buying them in bags of 300, it is a project to put them out. Climbing on ladders and searching under leaves, you place one of these socks over each baby fruit when they are less than an inch big. Then the apple grows into the sock providing the apple maggots with a physical barrier that supposedly prevents the maggots and coddling moths to boot. I have never done this before so I can't tell you from experience how well it works but my gardening friends love them. It is a bit tedious to put all the little socks on the fruit babies, but it is also pretty nice being out there in the gentle spring sunshine listening to the creek all full of water from this morning's rain. Charlie stayed with me the entire time hunting things in the grass. We had a good time.

Apple maggots are a huge problem where we live. But like all pests, they are a sign that the vitality of the plant is somehow compromised. For this reason, I am planning on brewing as much biodynamic compost tea as I can and spreading it in the orchard as often as I can manage. I have heard of many people doing this and experiencing a dramatic increase in the health of their fruit trees. I figured I would give it a try. I certainly have the compost to make the tea with...thank you Kaitlin!

It is easy to brew this tea. All you need is a 5 gallon bucket, a fish bubbler and some tubing, some compost and a zippered net bag and lastly some micronized endo powder. Fill the bucket with water, turn on the bubbler and stick the tubing down under the water (I hold my tubing in place with a rock). Then put some compost in the zippered net laundry bag and float it in the water. Add the micronized endo powder (which helps the good bugs grow in the compost tea) and let it all brew for a day. Spread like you were watering the trees. Easy as pie. You can buy a fancy compost brewer for hundreds of dollars or you can make one of these for $20-$25. Either way, the brew is mighty powerful stuff, especially when made with biodynamic compost.

We already painted the trees with biodynamic tree paste mid winter. And if we get a chance we will dig the grass out from the base of the tree and put a good layer of compost around each tree. Hopefully, all this will be enough to stop those pesky apple maggots in their tracks. I like apples too much to see them get wormy.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Busy weekend....

We are full to the brim with people around here. Fun!

Amanda the wwoofer from Hong Kong is still here and still weeding. The dear girl has weeded the biggest pile of weeds (buttercups!) I have ever seen. Becca and Seth are here for a few days before they take off for the pilgrimage walking trip in Spain (5 weeks--hundreds of miles...it is called the Camino, you could google if you are interested). And our friends Jacqueline and Joseph are here and we are having a weekend of biodynamic classes here...yesterday was Bees-The Other Way and today is Biodynamic Basics where we will be showing people how to stir and spray preps and make a biodynamic compost pile. Fun. But I have to run. Lots to do this morning.

Friday, April 16, 2010

buzz, buzz, buzz

The bees are coming today. I ordered two nucs (which are a bunch of bees and a queen for them to love) and they come in this afternoon. Nice! Only sad part is the man who started the bee business died a couple of weeks ago so his widow will be passing out the bees and I am sure just the thought of doing his work will make her even sadder. I hope the bees themselves will help her. They are SUCH the essence of love. Tomorrow some folks are coming over to watch while I hive the bees. Maybe I will have pictures or something to post. I love bee season.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Overwhelm

Ever look at the list and feel immobile instead of activated. That was me today. Nothing useful has gotten done so far (except a trip to the dentist, which hardly counts). Oh well, maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Home again, home again Jiggity Jig

I just have to say, if you are going to go away, you ought to have Becca and Seth come live your life for you while you are gone. Seriously, we came home to clean house, a cleaner barn, happy animals and fresh CHEESE. I mean, geez, that is something I always mean to do but seem not to find the time for. Yippee.

Becca had even redone all the strawberry beds--the old ones are weeded and refilled with new plants and the new ones are now not crawling out into the pasture. Yes, mam she did a good job. Yea for Becca.

Now it is rainy and cold and I can stay inside relatively guilt free and put all facets of our life back together by getting the laundry done and the fridge cleaned out. Sweet deal. Thank you Becca (and Seth!).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Aloha

Knowing yesterday was our last day before piling on the airplane and flying home inspired us. We got out early for a short walk on OUR beach and then hopped in the car to go back to Tunnels beach for another round of snorkeling. The surf was up, as were the currents so it was good we went early when it was relatively calm. We saw many of the usual suspects but also saw a gigantic moray eel that was half in and half out of his hole in the rock. We looked him up on line thinking that we could find out what kind he was. Since he was spotted, we thought it would be easy to tell. But alas, there are three spotted moray eels. We think he was a snout eel but he easily could have been a whitemouthed one, esp since the inside of his mouth was very white. Steve tried to take a picture but it didn't come out because we stayed a very comfortable distance above him in the water. I liked that. The last time we were in Kauai, a moray eel struck towards my face when I was looking at some fish near his hole. That was way too close for comfort. But I suppose he felt the same way about me!

After Tunnels we headed into Hanelei to produce the long promised Shave Ice for Aidan. Clearly a winner with him, as he was lamenting that he should have been having this all along. Me, I am not a fan of shave ice...way too orange or blue or green and way tooooo sweet. Steve and Aidan happily ate theirs in the shade on a bench while I walked around. I wandered into this cool store that sold handmade Polynesian things...phew, they make some really nasty weapons like the one that is designed to poke out both eyes of the enemy at once. Geez, I hope if I ever go to that island I mind my p's and q's. Wouldn't want to be on the wrong end of that puppy.

Then we came home for a very quick lunch and to reapply sunscreen because it was SUNNY and HOT and BEAUTIFUL and we headed for the Queen's bath again...of course because we spent so much time snorkeling by now it was 2 o'clock and we were worried about getting back in time for our last Banana Joe's so we had to stop there before the Queen's bath just to make sure. They are closed today so we can't get one on the way to the airport, but I may start looking for a champion juicer on craigslist. I can only imagine how delicious that concoction would be made with berries from the garden...Yummy and good for us too!

Then we dashed off to the Queen's bath where it was one big party. The surf was crashing over the rocks and into the pool which made it very fun AND we saw an entire little tide pool full of baby eels. They were eating each other for food. : (( Guess it was just an eely kind of day.

After this we went back to the fish market for one last round of fresh mahi mahi and came home for a movie. Aidan finished off the Kauai made sorbet that was in the freezer making it a great end to a great day. Oh, did I mention that we got an ice cream too when we went to the fish market?. By the time Aidan went to bed he had had 4 frozen treats in one day. (We tried hard to make his last day memorable! And NO, the parents didn't do that. We have a little restraint!)

Now it is packing and off to the airport we go. Aloha Kauai, we love you!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Bali Hai

The day started off with a double rainbow, how could it be anything but perfect!

The weather was gorgeous, the seas calm(ish), and the boat within walking distance of the house. We wandered down towards the dock at 7:15. Just as we got there the van was pulling up with all our other boat buddies coming in from Hanelei and then we all watched the boat as it was launched into the water. It wasn't long before we were all aboard and heading down to the Na Pali coast. The boat's name is the Seabreeze and truly, the day (well, morning) was as perfect as the name implies.

Isn't that a great picture! Don't thank the parents, Aidan took that one. His photography class skills have shown all trip. There were 14 of us aboard and two captains. The Seabreeze had it's annual Coast Guard inspection immediately after our trip so our Captain Bob
had his friend Capt. Rick there to help. That way we had two very knowledgeable tour guides and the trip was the better for it. Each had their own take on the tour and since Steve and I were sitting in different parts of the boats we heard both. Capt. Bob focused on the history and land forms, while Captain Rick made sure we knew exactly which celebrity lived where. I can now somewhat confidently say that Julia Robert's house has a green roof and is is NOT on Anini beach but is still close by.

The sea was full of swells on the way down the Na Pali coast, otherwise known as Bali Hai. From the sea, we saw the beach where Mitzi Gaylor washed that man right out of her hair and the scenery that National Geographic considers the second most beautiful coast line in the world. You have to admit, it is pretty spectacular, even with our amateur photography skills. The water is at least this gorgous.
And every bit of the scenery breathtaking. We saw valleys that looked virtually inhabitable they were so steep and rugged, and yet thousands of ancient Polynesians lived there for centuries. We saw the 'warrior' cliffs where the young boys would train for their lives as warriors diving off one cliff and swimming up to a virtually unswimmable beach only to have to reclimb a cliff for some other test of their manhood. Impressive stuff. As Capt. Rick said, this was when men were men! Speaking of that, I forgot to mention that Captian Rick (easily a man in his 60's) makes a yearly swim/run down and back the Na Pali coast in some kind of race...8.5 mile open water swim (with flippers and mask and snorkel and then an 11.5 mile run back up the Na Pali coast trail where parts of the trail are 18 inches wide and if you misstep once you fall down a very tall cliff! The swim part that sounded okay to me.....

When we reached our lunch spot, we immediately saw some turtles swimming in the waters around the boat. Yea! I love turtles. Capt. Bob declared the waters calm enough to swim so we donned our snorkel gear and jumped off the boat for an hour long snorkel. We saw plenty of fish and another monk seal sunning itself on the reef. We also saw a few of those beautiful turtle friends up close. Thanks again to Aidan for capturing them with the camera. It is much harder than it looks to get beautiful underwater shots.
On the way back we saw an entire pod of dolphins swimming along side the boat, jumping and playing. Quite a sight. I even saw a baby swimming right in tow with its mama and a friend. So cute. And then just as we were about to head in over Fringe Reef (the reef surrounding Anini beach that happens to be the largest living coral reef in Hawaii) we saw a baby humpback whale surface. Capt. Bob stopped the boat and we waited and watched until mama and baby came up to the surface again. Quite a sight to see them so close. The water over the reef was shallow the mama whale couldn't flip her tale when she was surfacing and diving because that would have taken her deeper than she was able to go. All in all, it was an amazing morning. Steve however was raring to go more, so as we are walking back up the beach he's planning our next big adventure--hiking above Princeville. Aidan and I stayed home savoring the last one while Steve went by himself and took this picture of some interesting tree he saw on the hill. That boy can go and go forever, Just like the energizer bunny!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Spouting horns and waterfalls...we turn touristy....



Life has been good...we've been on the go...so much we didn't even make it back in time yesterday for our traditional Banana Joe's frosty. Had to make do with homemade ice cream. Oh, poor us.

Yesterday we put on our tourist hats and went to see the spouting horn and the cutest turtle who came by to see it too. And then snorkeling in Poipu at a place reported to be the best snorkeling on the island but we weren't sure. Lots and lots of people and some different fish than we have seen but I wouldn't call it better. We have been to some pretty stellar places this week. I guess in the end it is kind of hard to compare.

After Poipu, we hopped in the car and took a short drive/walk to a beach that was lined with petrified sand dunes. Cool. The water was gorgeous, as were the waves breaking on the cliffs.
Aidan was feeling very 14 at that moment so he didn't seem to be having a very good time but Steve certainly was. There was a hole in the ground right in the surf that provided him with his very own hot tub.

And then on the way back we decided to continue with our heavy tourist day and visit the waterfalls..We have been to them before but they were very different with the heavy water flow. Last time we were here we went swimming in Kipu Falls, but yesterday it was way too full to swim. The water was bright red with the iron oxide soil that was still filling the streams from the big storm that caused the flash floods. We watched in awe and then walked back through the mosquito ridden grasses with the thoughts of finally getting a shave ice...the local treat we have yet to try this trip. We wandered our way through Lihue in search of the island's best shave ice only to find that it closed at 3. So we hopped back in the car and headed straight up to another falls--one that is taller than Niagra Falls--and about the size of Snoqualmie Falls, though with less water than Snoqalmie or Niagra on a heavy rain day.

After that, we had certainly worn out the generosity of the 14 yr old's patience with his parents ideas so we headed back to get that delicious, previously mentioned ice cream and headed home for dinner and bed.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Time for a new plan...



Ever have those days when you have EVERYTHING all planned out and it is going be great but then NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING goes the way you wanted it to. That was yesterday. Those days can either be frustrating, if you fight the tide, or they can be awesome if you go where life is taking you. That's what happened to us yesterday.

After the sleepy people woke up, Steve and I decided to go to visit a beautiful lighthouse on the very northern tip of the island. There is a National Wildlife Refuge there and it is a GREAT place for seeing cool sea birds and even sometimes marine mammals. We got going lickity split and were disappointed to find that it was closed (it didn't open until 10). We stood outside the gate for awhile watching the many and amazing sea birds fly around and hanging out on the sides of the cliffs. I tried to take some pictures but honestly they were just plain stupid because the birds were so small (even super zoomed) and the ocean is so big. So you will just have to imagine with a red-footed booby looks like or a frigate bird or some giant white bird with a red tail that I can't remember the name of this morning. Honestly, I guess am kind of boring because I liked the relatively common red-footed booby best. It has such a great name, beautiful bendy black and white wings and seriously has bright red feet...very noticeable to even me (and let's just say that I am NOT the best birder on the block.)

After a long time of watching the cool birds and looking for whales, we got back in the car and talked and waited and then gave up. Probably if the lighthouse had been free we would have had more patience with waiting but it was going to cost $5 each to get in and we had been looking at the view for a while, so we just nixed that plan and drove away onto the next adventure. There is a wonderful fish market about a mile or two from the lighthouse so we thought we would stop by there and get fresh (and I mean FRESH--this stuff is always right off the boat) fish for dinner. But guess what, they weren't open either. That makes sense I suppose, they do need time to be out on the boat. But there went plan two. The ice cream store was closed too, but I guess that was okay considering it was only 9 something.

We got back in the car and drove towards home where Aidan was texting us from his I-Pod--when were we coming home? Heck, we didn't know. We wanted to explore our neighborhood a little more so we took this bit of time to go down all the little roads and check out all the beaches nearby. To tell you the truth, I had a hidden agenda. I knew that Julia Roberts has an Anini Beach house and well, I was just kind of hoping i would run in to her. Okay, stupid but I can dream a little can't I. She has made me laugh more times in the last 10 years than anyone else I know. Gotta love her for that. After lots of driving and no sightings, we went home. I didn't even see a house I would have guessed to be hers (like I would know). After my thorough tour of the road by the beach, I decided that she must have one of the gorgeous, much more private houses on the hill that OVERLOOKS Anini Beach and isn't directly ON Anini beach--unless her house was the one house down this little tiny private road that I couldn't see. Maybe there was a super cool house ON the beach down that ratty road.

Well, anyway, enough of that.

When we came home ready to prepare for the big boat trip on the Na Pali coast. Aidan informed us that the boat people had called to say that there was a possibility that it would be cancelled do to a flash flood warning. Hmm. How could a flash flood warning hurt a boat out in the ocean? We didn't quite understand, esp because at this point it wasn't raining but we said ok. Steve got online, sure enough there was a big storm coming from the south and huge flash flood warnings were out. More hmmiing. We did a few little things and waited. Yep, an hour later they called and cancelled. What to do?

Now there is nothing that a 14 yr old likes better than to tell ya' what to do...so we threw the guidebook at Aidan and gave him an hour and said you decide what we should do this afternoon. We left him alone and when we reconvened he had an EXCELLENT plan fully researched. Go Aidan. We quickly piled into our snorkeling outfits (sans mask and fins for driving), lathered the skin white with sunscreen and drove off towards Hanelei where we haven't seen Puff but have seen his cave. Destination: Tunnel's Beach

I knew all about this beach. I remember reading in detail about the place where that cute 13 yr. old surfer girl had her arm bit off by a shark a few years ago...I knew that. Aidan didn't. But I wasn't really worried really because that was a freak event (only 14 shark attacks in Kauai's written history) and she was surfing at dawn when the sharks are feeding and besides we aren't as cute as she is. I wasn't worried but I did think about it.

We get there and guess what, NO parking anywhere. So we scout it out and find another place to park. Guess what that is all full too. So we keep on going on down the road, this is a 2 mile long beach and finally find some parking way down past where we wanted to be for the snorkeling. This is a swimming, surfing. snorkeling beach each in its own section of the beach. I only cared about the walk because my feet are getting holes in them where my flip flops rub the sand in at the straps. Ouch.

ANYWAY, we grabbed all the gear and started trucking down the beach. We finally get to a spot that looks good to us and get on our fins etc. We are just about to sckwaddle (what else could you call walking in fins?) across the flat underwater rocks to where it is deep enough to get in when some very nice man from Calcary says we might not want to do that because the rocks go on forever there and well, tells us to walk on down the beach some more to the channel out to the tunnels. OK, off go the snorkel and fins, on go the flip flops and down we go. This time we find his spot. Clearly, he was right. Thank you man from Calgary and out we go into the water.

We spent the next 3 hours snorkeling to our heart's content. It was AMAZING out there. So many kinds of fish. Seriously, we saw at least 25 kinds of fish and lots of them So many colors, and even the softest colored ones were beautiful when we took the time to look at them more closely. Gorgeous. Steve took oodles of pictures and I took a few. Taking pictures of fish is HARD. Steve and Aidan are definitely better at it than I am. Anyway, we lost track of time out there it was so fun. One time when I got a few feet away from Steve a monk seal swam by and looked him in the eye. Nice!

After we were all swum out, we asked Aidan what was next. He said " Shave ice, Banana Joe's and Ice cream." All three, yep, all three. Okay we said, you sure? Yep! So we scuttled back to the car as quickly as we could and looked at the clock. Dang, it was so close to when Banana Joe's closed. We ditched the shave ice idea and hurried as fast a person can hurry behind very slow driving cars back to Banana Joe's. We arrived JUST at closing and got our two fruit frostys (Aidan and I) and a smoothie (Steve). It was pineapple again and so we go into a long discussion with the owner about the weather and I guess the reason there are no choices at Banana Joe's this year is because the tropical fruit has had a hard time ripening when the weather was 65.

At this point we were so close to home we hopped on down the hill and all took showers and got off those sandy, salty swim suits and piled back in the car in search of ice cream. Hey, a promise is a promise and besides, snorkeling for 3 hours makes a person very hungry. Thanks to Karen, we found a DELICIOUS ice cream store that also made some kind of soft ice cream that had no dairy and no sugar (what did it have is the real question). Steve was glad to try that and got a big giant bowl of chocolate and vanilla mystery stuff. Aidan and I happily at the real stuff. A quick stop at the fish store for some fresh mahi mahi and then onto the video store where we found a really bad movie, so boring we didn't even watch it.

Dinner was great though and bed was even better. This week is so much fun as to be exhausting! I could use about 3 more nights' sleeps.

All in all, the day that wasn't came out pretty darn good! The big storm did hit, btw. At 9 when we were eating dinner. Whew, what a lot of water. Rained most of the night hard.

We are going to try for the boat trip again tomorrow.

ps sorry for not proofreading, just want to get those sleepy people up and go do something.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bathing like a queen....




So I left you yesterday morning when it was dumping rain; roof pounding, can hardly step outside without getting drenched kind of rain. After a couple of hours of that, the clouds moved on and we were left with an amazingly nice (and not too hot) day. How cool is that!

But before the rain stopped completely we decided snorkeling in the rain could be just as much fun as snorkeling in the sunshine. We lathered up the sunscreen as Aidan and I are living testaments to how badly a person can burn on a cloudy day, grabbed our snorkel gear, threw on our flip flops and headed out the door to our own little beach. (I like how after 2 days it is now MINE!) Click here to see a picture of MY beach! We walked down the beach to the little rope swing and shoved our raincoats and clothes under the roots of a tree__yea, you read that right UNDER the roots of a tree. then donning our mask and flippers walked backwards out into the sea. If you only knew how glamorous we can make that look. ; )

Unfortunately the water was only knee deep there for a very, very long time. So Aidan and Steve came back to shore and walked our stuff down to another protected spot and I swam--or shall I say held my breath and tried to swim. Seriously, it was about as shallow as it could be and me still be able to float and navigate. I bottomed out once but not with my bottom. Funny. Sort of. Made me realize if I was ever going to have reconstructive (deconstructive?) surgery of that area of my body I would like a good surgeon to do it, not a wad of coral. Ouch.

Anyway, once we were all back in the water, we snorkeled around for a couple of hours looking at all kinds of cool coral formations and tons and tons of fish. I am sure this beach is not known for its snorkeling but it was cool anyway. And it was still raining on and off so it was surely more fun than sitting inside waiting for the rain to stop. What's the point in that?

After a couple of hours we came home and made lunch...hmm, maybe we were out there longer than that because it was 12:30 by now. How did it get so late?

Regardless, we munched on boring things like guacamole made from fresh, very local avocados and tomatoes from a farm down the road a bit (Steve and Aidan) and peanut butter sandwiches (me, because clearly nobody else is going to eat what I thought would be good lunch stuff) and then we jumped back into the car and headed to the queen's bath. There is a lot of history to that spot but I forget it and was more interested in swimming than history so I didn't reread it yesterday.

The Queen's bath was my favorite part of Kauai when we came here in 1999. Well, at least tied for first. Kauai is really nice. Hard to pick, ya know. It is a beautiful pool of frequently refreshed ocean water (waves come splashing over the edge) complete with fish and interesting underwater things to look at. It is a nice (bit tricky) walk out from a subdivision in Princeville which is only 5 minutes away from MY beach.To get to the Queen's Bath, you walk down a hill, past a waterfall, across the lava flow and then down into the pool. The views are amazing. Seriously, amazing.

I saw on whale spouting yesterday, but the last time we went we watched whales swimming by for nearly an hour. And saw oodles of turtles swimming right off shore. Yesterday though, we concentrated on swimming and more swimming. We had the place all to ourselves (which apparently was kind of a miracle because after about an hour 30 or more people showed up and we saw almost that many walking out when we were walking in). We had plenty of time to swim and swim in completely comfort..warm water, no dangers. Very nice. (The queen's bath can be dangerous if the surf is high, but yesterday it was perfect.)

After watching the fish swim in so many different ways--with their whole bodies, with lots of fins, with just a couple fins, with their back fins...etc. etc. I decided I would try to emulate them and see how well I could get around. It was the kind of thing that embarrasses my children, so it was lucky that Aidan wasn't watching me and nobody else was around. Apparently, that while I am a great swimmer, I am not a good fish. I couldn't do any of their moves and still move forward. Actually, a lot of the moves I tried made me go backwards or worse, absolutely nowhere. I am sure I looked ridiculous, so I am very glad nobody noticed what I was doing and took pictures. The ones they have been taking are bad enough.

We swam until we were done (maybe 1.5-2 hours) and then walked back up the rocks and to the car. During the last half hour when all the people came we got to talking to the other non-locals about possible things to do. What we had scheduled from Thursday (a boat ride up the Na Pali coast starting in the south of the island 1.5 hours away from here) was apparently better scheduled from our end of the island. We had meant to pick a tour boat from here but somehow messed that up, We were definitely not keen on the drive, nor the time we would be doing the drive (leaving at 5:20 am) so we hurried home to cancel and reschedule. With just a few minutes to spare before they closed we were able to cancel with the southern company (with no fees--whereas, if we had waited until today it would have cost 50%) and then reschedule with one that takes off from OUR beach and will require no driving at all. Score. And supposedly, according to the guidebook of all guidebooks Kauai Revealed this is the best trip on the island. How did we miss this one to begin with? The rain must have addled our brains this morning and caused us to read an advertising magazine instead of the bible!

With that little mistake corrected we headed back out for our daily dose of Banana Joe's. Things have changed there since we were here in the 90's. No longer do you get to choose your flavor from a variety of choices. They make one kind a day and you suffer through their choice, like it or not. It was pineapple again, and poor us, it was delicious. Every time I eat these things it makes me want a champion juicer. How can just plain frozen fruit taste this good. Oh my, better stop talking about it or we will have to go twice today. yummy. We do have a few hours to fill before the boat ride.

While at Banana Joe's, we bought some more fresh produce and then wandered down the road to a little roadside stand selling ice cold coconuts. Since coconuts have been promoted to a real live superfood, how could we not stop and get one. Umm, fresh young coconuts are so delicious...Steve and I drank the water (Aidan tried it but didn't no likey) and then handed back our coconut to watch it be smacked with the back side of a machete. Amazingly, it cracked in half (I guess the right tool is everything). and with a little plastic spoon we scooped out bits of the inside. It was so soft and creamy, not at all like other coconut I have had. Guess i have never had one that young before. Yummy again.

We came home again and had some kind of taco/tostada concoction with tons of local, delicious produce and a beautiful pineapple, coconut, papaya salad for dinner. yumm. Even Aidan was full after this. An hour or so later, he resumed his grazing habits and found the local ice cream we had stashed in the freezer. yum on that too. Tonight we will try the guava and the pineapple gelato we found at the health food store. Made in Kauai, no dairy. Sounds good.

After all that swimming, we went right to sleep and I at least slept for a long, long time. Those two lumps are getting an extra long attached to their sleep since here it is after 7 and they are still sound asleep! Maybe I will go jump on their beds and wake them up. It's BEACHTIME.

ps Since it is beachtime, I am not going to take the time to redo the formatting to get those pictures in the right spots. They WERE there and then it changed. The top one is the Queen's bath...and the other two are sel-explanatory.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Lucky girl

My kids always say I have very good luck when it comes to seeing wild animals. I guess yesterday proves their point.

Steve, Aidan and I went snorkeling at Ke'e beach at the very north end of Kauai yesterday afternoon. It was windy and kind of rainy so the water wasn't as clear as it could have been but it was warm and the reef there is beautiful so it didn't matter much to me. After the initial 30 nanoseconds it takes to get used to the water, the swimming here is extraordinary. (I hate cold water so much I can even think the water in Hawaii feels cold!). We saw zillions of tropical fish, large and small. And most excitedly a 700 pound Hawaiian monk seal taking a nap on the beach. These seals are critically endangered so it was more than a treat to see one.

But let's back up a bit and start the day for real. First off Steve and I went for an early morning walk along Anini Beach (the beach that is 100 steps from where we are staying). The tide was low so we were able to wade around the headlands and watch the sun rise up (not the official sunrise but the rising sun). It was beautiful. In our wade we saw all kinds of critters in the tidal zone--sea cucumbers, beautiful fish, crabs, and a bunch of critters that I don't know the names of. Then we went back to the house, had breakfast and got ready for the day. (It was all of 7 by then.) The Hawaiian time is 3 hours earlier than we are used to, so it has been early to bed, early to rise for this crew so far.

Anyway, Steve loves to snorkel but has all kinds of trouble with it..he wears glasses so he can't see and has a mustaches so the water leaks into his mask and goes up his nose and makes him really uncomfortable. Poor guy. So after our last trip to warm snorkeling waters he swore he was going to change this. When it came time for him to get his eyes examined last year he decided to buy himself some contacts. He's been wearing glasses since he was 12 and will be 55 in a couple of months. 42+ years of glasses with no contacts. This was a big change. He's been learning how to use them hiking and skiing (other places where his glasses caused him trouble) but he has been waiting to see what it will be like to snorkel with them.

He has also been saying he needs to shave off his mustache to properly seal the mask so he can have fun. Now saving a mustache might not seem like a big deal to you, but in our 33+ years together I have never seen him without one. I have seen pictures and let me tell you, they were scary. I have always jokingly said if you ever shave off your mustache I know you want to break up with me and then when we got married I included that as my only condition to marrying him. It was a joke but you know how jokes often are--they aren't really. So after this 30+ year build up, let's just say he was more than a little bit nervous about doing this and actually needed a lot of encouragement from me. I cleared him for this project months ago but I guess he didn't believe me.

I just spent way too long trying to post pictures of this but something weird is going on...so I am giving up. Here's a link to facebook to see the pictures...hope this works.

After all this was done, we packed a lunch and headed out for Ke'e beach...I just tried to post somebody else's beautiful picture of this beach (because we forgot to take one so excited we were to get into the water) but that didn't work either. hmm.

Anyway, we donned our flippers and masks all piled in the water. Aidan, a bit reluctantly, and Steve and I with great enthusiasm. We snorkeled to our heart's content. We saw oodles and oodles of beautiful fish and after snorkeling we walked down the beach for awhile and saw the Hawaiian Monk seal. It was raining on and off but that didn't matter in the water. We were already wet.

After our walk, we sat on the beach for awhile and ate lunch (peanut butter on rice cakes). 15 tiny dove like birds and a Hawaiian cardinal came around begging for treats. I fed them little bits of plain rice cakes and soon they were climbing all over my leg and arm and eating right out of my hand. One time I had three of them on my hand--two were piggy backed on each other! Obviously, somebody had tamed them before me. They must have weighed 3 ounces at the most and had such pretty little feathers. About an hour later when the doves were getting full, 3 wild chickens came by and chased all the little birds away. They pecked my little bits of rice cake down in not time flat and were on their way. As Aidan says there's no escaping chickens or rain in this life.

All in all, it was a great day that we topped off with a trip to banana joe's...a place that transforms plain old fruit and nothing else into the best frozen concoction I have ever had...or at least one of the very best. Yesterday's flavor was pineapple. yummm Then we piled on home, took showers, had dinner and another beautiful walk on the beach (that makes 3 in one day!!!) and came home to watch Men with Brooms. The movie was funny but not near as much fun as the rest of the day,

Now here it is the next morning. I woke up bright and early ready for another early morning walk but these two lumps are still fast asleep.



And actually it is raining, dumping so hard even the infamous Kauai chickens have gone back to bed. So I guess I will wait awhile.

Monday, April 5, 2010

When the going gets rough, this gardener gets going...to Hawaii

So last week we almost had frosts 4 nights. I went to sleep concerned for all our fruit trees, most of which are in full bloom. Then came Easter with a big snowstorm right up the hill from us. Sleet, hail, freezing winds. What do I do? Do I go out with blankets and sheets to cover the trees, set up hot pots to keep the orchards warm. Oh no, not me. I get on a plane for Hawaii. And that is where I sit, right now. In the sun on the lanai of the little house we are renting that is 100 steps from Anini Beach in Kauai. You envious? You definitely should be. It's amazing here.

All around me are the sounds of birds, many kinds. I see an enormous mango tree just laden with baby fruits. The trade winds are blowing just the right amount and I am waiting for Steve to finish his morning back stretchers so we can walk down on the beach. For it is sure bet that the 14 yr food monster will sleep another couple of hours. It is only 6:34 after all. I have been up for hours waiting for it to get light (a half an hour ago) and then for Steve to wake up (just now). I thought it would be more fun to walk with him. But if I wake up so early again, next time I may not wait. Hearing the crashing waves is like a siren's call for me. Hard not to follow.

Meanwhile, we left Becca and Seth home to milk cows and feed critters. Hopefully, we will all have a good time. Poor Charlie though, he really wanted to go.

ps When I call Aidan a food monster, even he thinks of himself that way. Last night he ate a steak that was bigger than his FACE. He was one happy camper. crazy, right.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The hay came in and the cow went out

Somehow, in the process of getting the hay in the barn we left the stall door open and Mattie escaped. She didn't mind one bit. She found the greenest, lushest grass on the other side of the fence and proceeded to eat it as fast as she could because she KNEW we would find her and put her away. Guess what, she was right. You should of heard the ruckus she made when we put her back. NOISY. Oh well, at least she is in out of the rain, which is more that Moose (her baby) can say. He is patiently waiting on the other side of a different fence for his mom to come back after milking tonight. He doesn't have a roof to stand under so he is wet. It's been RAINING all day. A lot.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Calling in the troops....wanna spread some rock dust?

We're still here working on the mineral brigade. We asked Becca and Seth out to come help spread more rock around. Grace was also here working on wedding planning so we got her dusty too. And finally after weeks of weekends, we are almost done. I say almost because we were missing a few bags of magnesium and one of manganese so those will have to be applied later--later after we order them, after we drive to Olympia to get them from Black Lake Organics, after we get back from vacation, after we get the taxes done, after Steve teaches next month, after the new bees get hived. Later meaning as soon as we can.

Spring is a busy time around here, especially if we want to do any new projects rather than just maintaining the old. Actually maintaining what we already have going is more than enough but it is so easy to spend the dark, cold winter nights thinking of exciting projects to do come spring. My list was long this year, probably too long. Oh well, at least the biggest job is almost done.

Last night at dinner, Steve, Becca, and Grace were all commenting on the odd physical effects of spreading minerals. You end up with one muscle in your non-spreading arm that is very sore from holding the bucket under your arm. It is a peculiar muscle that doesn't much use. It must be under the arm or something. Maybe we should inform all the personal trainers of this eccentric activity that creates beautiful definition of this very unused muscle. I am sure Steve could tell you its name. I sure can't. Meanwhile, people are reaching for the vials of arnica cream and looking at their buff armpits.

While they were busy spreading rock dust, I was inside preparing for the second night of the wedding salad tasting extravaganza. We are testing a BUNCH of salads. Last night was the biggest lot. We invited a few people (in addition to the kindly rock dust spreaders) and made official ballots and fed people 7 different types of salads. I should have taken pictures but honestly I was too busy. Here's what we tried maybe you can use your imagination to see the colorful spread we consumed: Moroccan Carrot and Ginger Salad; Paprika Cucumber Salad; Romaine Hearts with Avocado, Jicama and Orange; Guiditta's real Italian Salad; Fennel and Orange Salad on bitter greens; Grandma Hall's potato; and Sir Wasano's Infamous Indonesian Rice Salad. There were no big winners, but everybody does love Grandma Hall's potato salad. Tonight is night three of the salad bonanza. Hopefully, after dinner tonight Grace will have the wedding menu all nailed down. So many decisions, I do not envy her.

Okay, enough blathering. Must get back to work.

ps latissamus dorsi is the name of that funny muscle. I asked Steve.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What a day!

Yesterday was a big day. We are still in the middle of laying all that rock dust on the pastures and orchards. Steve and I spent the day mixing and spreading 1500 pounds of dust. He spread, I weighed, measured and mixed (well, he helped with the mixing as it is a two person job).

The way it works is I measured out the specifics for each dust and each pasture: 9.8 pounds of Iron sulfate, and 13.1 pounds of manganese oxide and 17.4 pounds of copper sulfate and 44 pounds of redmond mineral salt and 47 pounds of azomite--the list goes on and on. Then I put this all on an enormous plastic tarp. When the mix was compete and all piled high on the tarp--hundreds of pounds by the time I am done, Steve and I mixed the goodies by each taking an end to the tarp and walking it towards the other side. As we pulled the tarp along the rock dust mixed itself up by folding into itself and around. We folded it back and forth and up and down about ten times and the dust was mixed, which is much easier in theory than it is on the body. It's heavy pulling that much rock dust along. But we did it and while I made the next batch Steve shoveled and then spread the old batch. Poor guy, I felt for him out there...that is a LOT of work. Just the kind of thing that diesel machines were invented for. But ole' mighty man did it with a smile and even seemed like he was having fun.

After he was done, I sent him to the shower to wash off all that dust and then put him in a warm bath tub full of relaxing essential oils to take the wear and tear out of his back. I wanted a chance to try out this new gadget I just got (for my birthday but it just arrived through customs this week). It's a fancy German oil diffuser for the bathtub that has some German name I can't pronounce or even begin to say so I call it the oil thingy. It is both terribly fragile and terribly expensive.

The oil thingy works by connecting the water from the bathtub to a tube and running it through a fancy glass machine that looks like something straight out of a mad scientist's laboratory. As the water processes through the machine it absorbs micro amounts of the oil by breaks up all the oil into teeny tiny droplets (which thereby allow it to go into your skin WAY better) and it spins the water into an vortex which further allows the healing energy of the oil to penetrate the water. Pretty fancy stuff that has pretty amazing results. My doctor prescribed these baths for me and I have been blown away by these baths (though the prescriptive baths are more complicated than I did for Steve). I have been lusting over this machine for months. And now I have my own...yea for birthdays! Can't wait to try it for myself too.

Anyway, today is the day after and Steve is still sound asleep (a sure sign of how much work that was yesterday) and it is raining which is so perfect for the soil after a rock dust application I would be dancing a jig but I am too tired. Way too tired. Guess the next installment of rock dust is going to happen next week. All we can say is where are the wwoofers when you need them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St Pat's day

Wish I could say I had corned beef cooking in the oven right now. I know I must have the right cut of beef out there in the freezer somewhere. Problem is, I don't know what cut of beef that would be and so, we are just having some kind of beef we haven't tried yet. See the thing about butchering a cow and then having an entire cow in the freezer, if you are as ignorant about meat as I am you get a whole lot of things you have no idea what to do with because they never (seldom?) sell them in the store. Tonight we are having one such cut--top round something or other--which sounded like hamburger to me but is some kind of rectangle shaped piece of meat. We'll see. It looks okay waiting to go in the oven.

To go with it we are having baked yams (my favorite) and roasted collard greens with lime. That's pretty good for March--2/3rds of dinner will be homegrown.

This time of year is the hardest to be eating from the garden. I have LOTS of plant babies out there. They struggle valiantly against the elements to grow in the wind and the rain and the hail and sometimes even snow. Takes a lot of fortitude to be a spring plant, I think. I go out everyday to cheer them on and plant a little more, dig a little more and generally just get my hands dirty after a winter of no gardening. Feels good to have dirt roughened hands again. But the problem is there is precious little to eat out there. We have a titch of over-wintered lettuce left--maybe one salad's worth, and a few dinners of kale, collards and parsnips. And of course, the nettles and chives are coming up but that's about all.

I am missing cauliflower and brocolli and brussel sprouts. I have them growing but they are so small it is hard to imagine ever getting to eat them. Just like my plant babies have to imagine there there will someday be sunshine and warmth, spring gardening requires a lot of imagination on my part. I have to imagine my garden full and lush so I don't plant things too close together (like I did the swiss chard today). I have to imagine what is tall and what is short so I don't lose plants in the shade of other plants. It is so easy to throw things in willy-nilly (esp if you garden like I like to) and then be sad in a few months because all that beautiful kale you have growing is surrounded by a particularly vital squash plant that has encircled the kale like a fortress.

Hopefully, this year I will have a lot of what it takes to be a spring plant--imagination and fortitude and that will yield a particularly wonderful garden. All those plant babies make me happy. Let's just hope I make them happy too.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Moving the marionberries

Marionberries, in case you don't know, are a cross between a Chelelum blackberry and Ollallieberries. Renown for their complex flavor, they are beyond delicious...and as luck would have it, they are exceptionally nutritious too. Click here to read more about them (and see some luscious photos).

For years we have had a small patch of marionberries growing at the back of our raspberry patch. I planted them there because I didn't know any better. I knew I loved eating marionberries and that they cost a fortune in the store. Seriously, half a pint can cost upwards to $4. Unfortunately when I bought the plants, I didn't really understand what growing them would be like. And I REALLY didn't understand what picking them would entail. I should have done more research. These plants are ferocious. Seriously. But, as is often the case with me, I do something first and learn about it second. I think I like to learn from experience. But sometimes, this causes problems. And believe me, our marionberries were a problem last year.

Last year, you could not walk down the aisle to pick them. Last year you couldn't walk by them to get to the rows of raspberries and strawberries behind them. Last year, picking them was a lot like going to the dentist--something I really need to do but never want to.

When I ordered 3 plants 5 years ago from Raintree Nursery I had NO idea they were going to grow into a monstrous hedge of thorns that jealously guarded each and every one of its berries. I didn't know that they would grow in such a way that I would loose serious amounts of skin each and every time I went out to pick these little treasures. What I did know was that I LOVED marionberry pie and that they grew well in this climate.

Once the plants arrived, I naively planted them a tad bit closer than the directions suggested (what's one foot, I thought!). and then we waited for them to grow. The first couple of years they were manageable and we got very few berries... The third year they grew a reasonable number of berries but we hadn't trellised them correctly so many of the berries rotted for lack of air flow.

Last year we figured out how to better use the trellis and suddenly we had oodles of berries. The only problem was we also had oodles of berry plants that were covered in fierce thorns. OUCH. Picking was no fun, just ask cousin Frank who was almost hospitalized for blood loss after he was seen crawling on all fours across the ground and under the mass of plants trying to get to the berries and away from the thorns. Sorry bout that Frank.

Apparently, marionberries follow the old gardening adage for groundcovers...first year they sleep, the second year the creep and the third year they leap. Being this was the fourth year, they had leapt and then some. In four short years they had gone from spindly little plants to a completely unmanageable mess. This year we knew had to do something.

That's why (thanks to the efforts of the mighty man, yet again) we now how an all new, completely separate marionberry hedgerow that is accessible from both sides but has no other plants growing near it that we can't cut back. It's way down in the lower pasture. Steve rebuilt an even better trellis and carefully relocated the entire berry patch out of the raspberries and down to where we HOPE picking them will be much less painful. Who knows, it might discourage trespassers too. I can vouch for the fact that nobody in their right mind is gonna wanna walk through those babies.

Somebody else must not have liked the thorns because Raintree no longer sells marionberries but rather sells a thornless berry they promise tastes the same. I wonder if that's true.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Planting sweet peas in the sunshine

How good does life get when I get to go outside on a sunny spring day, get my hands dirty and plant 4 big rows of sweet peas. I say, mighty good. And then when I come back inside and make a big pot of chowder to bring to a potluck with my friends it only gets better. And then when I get to throw some chocolate in a bowl and bake up dessert, well, I am just here to say life is good. And delicious.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Snail!

Saturday we had nothing but sunshine out there. Hot too. Nice. Today though, the weather is another matter completely.
In a word, you could call it unpredictable.

In the short time it took for me to look outside see sunshine and decide to go work in the garden, the skies changed from clear blue to a threatening black and down came the rain. Hard. So I set aside my garden plans and grabbed the absolutely delicious book I am reading. Three pages later I looked up to see that the torrent of rain had stopped. i quick jumped up and ran outside to start digging up the sweet pea bed I had hoped to plant today. But before I could even get more than a couple of feet dug, out came the clouds again only this time they starting snailing (hard). Snailing, in case you don't know, is what my family calls that dubious form of precipitation that is somewhere between snow and hail. It drops white pellets that are cold, wet and white but not quite hard. Determined to get a few sweet peas planted I persevered. The clouds were not cooperating. Not only did I not get anything planted, I got very cold and very wet.

I trotted inside once again to wait out the weather. I read about ten pages of my book this time and then out came the blue sky AGAIN. Great I thought as I threw back on my boots and headed out. This time, I dug as fast as I could and finished preparing the bed. Five minutes later, it was dumping again. By this time, I didn't care. I stuck it out and got all the sweet peas planted. And guess what, the second I was done, the sun came out again and has been out ever since. Go figure.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sunshine!

Thank heavens for the mighty man is all I can say. I was feeling a little disheartened about being able to spread all those minerals after my first attempt earlier this week. I enjoyed doing it but was sooo tired afterwards. It was hard to motivate myself to do more knowing it would wipe me out for a few days.

Steve on the other hand woke up raring to go this morning. After drinking is powerpacked superfood smoothie, he went outside and laid down HUNDREDS OF POUNDS of the heretofore discussed minerals. Thank you Mighty Man. When I said that to him he smiled and showed me his muscles...his bicep looked just like Popeye's! He seemed pretty happy out there with his arm in a bucket sowing rocks.

This whole mineralization is a many step process. Right now we have two steps in front of us. Yesterday Steve finished one and we will start the next one in a couple of weeks...The first step is laying down the rock phosphate and borax that will in essence prepare the soil to receive the calcium and other trace minerals it needs. If the two are laid down together they would bind each other up (this is where a little more chemistry would make this clearer to me) but by putting some time between applications we will get optimal availability of all the minerals we need.

What this means for the animals is they are going to be cooped up in the barnyard for six weeks or so looking at the grass that will literally be growing greener on the other side of the fence.

While Steve was busy with that project I got to work in the gorgeous sunshine and planted out some broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts (I know, too early) and cabbage. I also spread out a big bed of spinach and lettuce seedlings. Today I am back to the hoophouse to do the same thing in there with all the many lettuce and kale seedlings I have going in there. No going back on spring now.

Aidan spent the day earning money for a school trip to the Ashland Shakesphere Festival by picking up the winter's dropping of branches and sticks from the areas we mow, hauling a huge pile of kiwi prunings down to the bank and knocking down molehills. Today he plans to clean the cars. He's got a couple of hundred bucks to earn so if anyone has a job, he might be interested.

By the way, if anyone is interested in learning more about mineralizing your garden you might want to check out Black Lake Organics. They know their stuff and are happy to teach you too. It's a drive to Olympia, but well worth the time and effort.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Spring, sprang, sprung




Well, it's official. We are having an early spring! No going back now. While the rest of the nation is battling snow and ice storms, our fruit trees are blooming. The daffodils have popped. Even the magnolia tree is blooming. Those seeds I ridiculously planted in January are now fine little seedlings--small but mighty and strong enough to weather those chilly early spring nights. All this earnest growth outside has me ready to garden. But first, I have to attend to the soil.

In a couple of hours 3400+ pounds of minerals are arriving. Add those to the 700+ pounds that are already waiting in the barn and we'll be ready to tackle a major soil-remineralization project.

Encouraged by the members of a biodynamic list serve I am on, I decided to dive into this foreign world of borax and azomite and epsom salts as a way to build my soil. And while not strictly biodynamic (a system where the farm or garden is a closed loop and which you strive to never add any inputs), I am excited about the possibilities that remineralizing our soil can do for our food (and our bodies).

When we moved here in 1999, we didn't know squat about caring for any farm animals other than chickens and we certainly didn't know about pasture management. Our pastures were sorely overgrazed from the last owner's 30 year tenure on the farm. We knew we needed to do something to bring them back to health but we weren't sure what. With all the learning curves we had to master, the pasture found its way to the bottom of the list. Finally, it has made it to the top.

Last year we sent five soil samples away to Logan Labs in Ohio testing the two pastures, the two orchards and the garden. This year we sent in two, the garden and the hoophouse. Basic soil testing is pretty cheap considering all the information it details. It's usually around $20 a sample. From that you learn how well the soil takes up minerals and which minerals are available in your soil and in what quantities. A balanced soil profile produces healthier plants and healthy plants make gardening a whole lot easier.

But as we found out last year, soil tests are wonderful but only if you have somebody amazing to analyze them. Last year I did the tests and then stared blankly at the results, clueless as to how to interpret them. Even Steve with his degree in Chemistry wasn't sure how to translate the test into practical action.

We heard rumor of an amazing guy (Michael Astera) who knew how to rebalance worn soils with organics and minerals but we didn't quite know how to find him. Eventually, the soil tests found their way to the middle of a pile on my desk--lost but not forgotten--and gardening season began.

Unable to solve the mysteries of our soil tests, I took a class from Steve Diver about raising high nutrient vegetables. He talked a lot about the importance of remineralizing the soil and activating the soil organisms that make the minerals more accessible to the plants. I applied just a few of simplest things he said to in my garden and kept up with my usual biodynamic practices. The results were astonishing. We had the BEST garden we have ever had and the taste of the food was phenomenal. Taste is directly correlated to nutrition so I knew we were onto something.

So, this year when Michael Astera appeared on my biodynamic list serve and said he was looking for people to participate in a study about using soil minerals to raise the nutrition in food (as measured by the brix level with a refractometer and tissue samples and more soil testing) I ignored that fact I didn't really understand what he was saying and that science is not part of my vocabulary and quickly said I'll do it, I'll do it. And this is how I find myself with two tons of minerals arriving on our doorstep.

Oh please, cosmic muses of mineral distribution appear in the night and instruct me as to how to do this monstrous task of distributing these many pounds of rock dust with ease of back.

I will figure this out because just the simple remineralization I did last year made such a radical difference in soil tests from last year to this. I can only imagine what will happen when we follow an individualized prescription such as the ones given to us by Michael as his part of the study. My part of this study is buying the minerals and then doing the actual work of applying them and then recording the results--oh how I wished I had paid more attention in those high school biology labs.

One reason I am willing to haul two tons of rock dust around the place is that nutrition, and specifically the declining mineral status of our foods, is directly correlated to the rise in chronic, degenreative disease that runs rampant in our culture. Since Steve and I are of an age when these diseases start appearing, I am thinking the more minerals we eat the better off we will be in the long run. I look at Steve's poor aching back and think what an even better diet might do. I think of me and my RA and think, yes, this might be an answer (or at least one step in the journey), so heavy, mineral laden wheelbarrow here I come.

I will let you know how we feel AFTER we lay down two tons of minerals. It will be interesting. All I have to say is where are the wwoofers when you need them!

Oh and by the way, at the very least you could add 14 oz of borax to every 1,000 feet of garden you have. (Twenty Mule Team borax from the grocery store works fine.) Borax will help your plants have more access to calcium and silica, both of which are basic building blocks of healthy plant tissue. (And if I got the reason why wrong, I got the amount correct. Sorry, science is not my basic language.)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

When the cats are away, the mice do what they want....

It is the last night of a week home alone without my family. Talk about a mid-winter treat. Not much to do outside (it is February after all) and with the family gone, well I didn't find myself too motivated to do much of anything except exactly what I wanted to. I did yoga, I went on walks, I pet the cows, I took naps. I read books. And then last night I finally got hungry and I made a feast. Wish I had taken pictures because it was a beautiful dinner.

First of all, a bit of broiled beef from recently butchered Gilly. He tasted all full of love, and was amazingly okay to eat. Guess it helped knowing he had a good life and a gentle death. Then there was the roasted asparagus (brushed with a tiny bit of olive oil and sprinkled with coarse Himalayan salt and then roasted at 400 degrees for 8 minutes--superb). And lastly, was this coconut dish I made up and will definitely have to make again...try this..melt some coconut oil in a hot skillet then drop in some bits of chopped fresh ginger. Add some sliced leek (preferably from the garden like mine were) and then saute those three ingredients until slightly tender. Add some chunks of cauliflower. Let that cook a bit, until the cauliflower started to get a bit tender, add some chopped red pepper and season with turmeric. Add slices of ripe mango and smell. When all the vegetables are tender slowly add some coconut milk and cook it until it thickens. As the coconut milk thickens add some Himalayan salt and a bit of fresh or fresh frozen basil (like this was from last summer's basil). Serve hot and enjoy. I was deliberately vague on the amounts because I was cooking for moi and you might be cooking for more. Anyway, it was well worth repeating. In fact, I may just have the leftovers tonight. Yum.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Flowers, flowers everywhere

I don't get this Febuary but I like it. Today was blue sky heaven. Took a walk in the woods and the grass along the path wasn't just green it was growing--already 4 inches tall. And our garden is full of flowers. Crocus, hellebore, violets and oodles and oodles of snowdrops. Feels like a gift out there.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tales of a lazy farm girl

Sooo, the second batch of wwoofers left yesterday. They did a lot of dirty work (literally) weeding and especially hauling manure/straw for sheet mulching. They did our annual bury the mummy berry spores under cardboard, compost and mulch effort with the help of Steve, and Becca (and me driving the truck). That means the worst jobs of winter are all done and now it is time to wait for the sun.

Some of those seeds I planted that larky warm day in January sprouted and are valiently braving the cold. They aren't growing much but they are there, a testament to the will to grow no matter what. I believe in them. And I believe in that sentiment. I may build them a little plastic tent to grow under if I get ambitious but the way I am feeling today I doubt it.

In fact, I doubt I am going to do much except feed the animals and do what I want today. See, the gang all went skiing for a week and left me here alone (well, alone if you don't count the cat, the dog, the 17 hens and 2 roosters, the 2 cows and 2 steers, the goat, and the 5 ewes and their 4 babies). That's almost alone. So far today I cleaned house cuz it was bugging me and I wanted to. I am about to go on a walk with a friend and if I knew somebody with TV recption I might beg to go over there and watch the Olympics.

Clearly, a lazy day. Hope you are having a grand V'day. Steve left me beautiful flowers before he took off for Montana. What a guy!