Thursday, April 30, 2009

Riot Girrlz

Do you have fun plans for the weekend? Mine just got a little more directive. I had intended to post about the fixed costs involved in our water saving system, and the ingenious hose attachment the guys at the hardware store helped me fix together, and maybe something about a truly free tree I scored, but that was before I went out back this morning.

Remember the bean bed? I was having some trouble with slug predation -- a few had been eaten right down into the bean itself, and yet most had come through with just a few raddled leaves.

I was looking forward to watching them climb their strings. This morning, I went out to water and found this

It's difficult to see the depth of these holes. I'd say, they're probably about, oh, a chicken deep each. And in the zinnia bed?

I caught her red-footed when I went out to take pictures, although she ran off at my indignant yelp.

So this weekend, I think I'm going to resize the chicken yard, making it smaller (sorry, girls) and much, much more secure. This will also have the bonus of allowing me to put the beehives aloft on stands, as I've been thinking of. But that, and the interesting conversation with the neighbor yesterday, will all have to wait for another time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Beyond the Garden Bed

I spent the morning in the garden watching a mother even busier than I:

Over the last month or so, we watched mama and papa bushtit make trip after trip, bringing dried vegetation and fluff and crafting it into the fuzzy, pendulous sock of a nest that grips the bamboo.

Then a few days ago the sock started hopping and squeaking, and now when mama peeps her approach the little ones tweet-tweet their tiny hearts out. Given the size of the nest---less than a foot from top to bottom and just a few inches across---they can’t be much bigger than walnuts, but they’re apparently quite hungry.

I’m out here doing the same thing: working to feed my family. It can be daunting to think about. How much food can we really coax out of this yard? Hopefully a lot, especially as we’ve just amended and planted the back of the yard in the space around the fruit trees.

This soil was so hard that I firmly remember a clang the first time I stuck a shovel in it, solid clay with poor drainage. Before the winter’s rains this year, we made a lasagna of cardboard, horse manure, and straw. This is what it looked like in February, just before the straw:

Then in the spring we turned it---hard, time-consuming work---added some of the great free topsoil we picked up, and topped it off with just two bags of fertilizer and a bit of blood meal.

This is the space for Big Plants: corn and squash (and beans to round out the Three Sisters), and I’m hoping they’ll run all over the yard. When the chicken coop is ready it’s going to be a tight fit back here. I can’t wait.

And with the hose attached to the rain totes back here, watering is a breeze.

It's evening now, and that mama bird is still at it. Though I’m a busy mama, too, working in the garden gives me the chance to observe those moments in nature that I’d miss if I were rushing through, and learning the rhythms of my yard’s other inhabitants reminds me that I’m just one part of a larger system.

Sharing that with my boys is a gift, one they appreciate in their own way. When I pointed out that the baby birds cheep and bounce when mama approaches, my oldest tracked her arrival with his make-believe rifle: “Blam! Got her.” Sigh. They’re still growing, too.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nourish beginnings

Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings. Not all things are blest, but the seeds of all things are blest. The blessing is in the seed.
Muriel Rukeyser

Sometimes the beginning seed comes from the ending plant -- these are Lacinato Kale from last year.

And sometimes it's the promise of moving-around new life (notice how nicely the mama ladybugs placed their children near a buffet?).

We're going to have grapes, and this year, I've committed to regular watering, so they might be bigger than last year's quarter-inch ones.

The rasperries are so beloved that a strict set of protocol has grown up around the picking of them. One picks, then figures out how many people want them, then offers them around, making sure that mama gets some. At least that's the theory. Hopefully the new berries out front will spread out the joy.

I thought I'd have room for a zucchini in this section of the bed, but I had lazily snapped the True Siberian kale off instead of pulling it. Now it's resprouting. How could I rip it out now? We actually had kale for dinner last night.

This may be the truest indicator that spring is really here. Tomatoes. . . yummm. Even now I'm amazed at how much plant comes out of such tiny seeds.

Speaking of dinner last night, yesterday was one of those cheery "make lots of food" days. A new pan of granola:

The artichokes are from the front yard. With pine nuts and parmesan, they ended up stuffing the chicken breasts for the dinner party. They're so young that they were butter-tender.

More seeds and seedlings await downstairs. The fun just never ends. As I was pulling weeds by the garden bed today, and taking them to the chickens, I realized that I'll be doing this next year, and the year after that, and so on, unless something terrifically unexpected happens. That makes me happy. I always thought that you'd (I'd?) have to move to the country to feel linked to any land, but it's apparently the working of the land that causes connection.

Strike up the bands; more needle cases

I keep saying, "I only have to do the sleeves," and Sarafina keeps muttering, "You keep using 'only' and 'sleeves' in the same sentence, and I cannot think of one instance where you haven't knit each sleeve at least three times. So you actually have six sleeves left."

Pish tosh, is what I say. I'm pleased with the fit, I'm pleased with the bands, and I do need to figure out where in the color sequence to start the sleeves. I think I'm going to make two at a time, with an in-between steek, to keep the color repeats similar in length to the body. Fortunately, even before I began knitting at all on them, I realized I'm going to have to have a selvedge to sew into the arm holes, so I should make a few extra rows before the pattern. See? That's two sleeves' worth of mistakes I don't have to make!

Still, it's something of a long road between here and finishing completely.

I sewed the bee buttons on just today, while watching "Life in Cold Blood," lent to us by Susan of Homeschooling in the Kitchen fame, using a needle from my olivewood needle holder.

Unless Rosi G. and Kim M. release their claims on the walnut burl and the Shiro plum, these are the seven needle cases I have left until the Australian Hardwood series hits my mailbox. I was thinking that, while these pictures are nice, sometimes it's helpful to see them up close. So I took individual pictures.

This is the maple burl. It's very smooth (he does lovely finishing work).

This is a pecan burl.

This one is taken.This is one of the dyed and laminated wood ones. When I look at it in sunlight, it's mostly gray and red. The Knitpicks laminated wood needles use the same technique.

Also gone.This is another of the pecan heartwood burl ones.

All gone.The last of the blue acrylic. I like the silver findings on it.

These are the red acrylic ones. He's calling these "uncut rubies." They look like a pile of crushed red glass, but of course are very smooth. One has thirds turned into it, the other is more bilaterally symmetrical.

So, if you want them, you can paypal the maker at drhpang AT verizon DOT net, and we'll get them out to you asap.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Talking the Talk

At 11:30 tomorrow, at Washington Park in Alameda, I get to be part of (half of?) a panel discussion on Growing Food Locally. Eric made a crack that it's hard to grow food remotely, at least for the grower, but still.

So I'm hoping to be poised, and articulate, and convincing. Maybe I'll take a bowl of artichokes and a head of lettuce and some snow peas for visual interest.

Sometimes it's actually difficult for me to talk about gardening. It's something akin to going out and telling other people that breathing, for instance, is important, and good to do, and lots of fun. I simply do not feel right in my own skin if I'm not growing something. So to articulate why growing food is not a fringe activity, not a vague hobby, but a central right and privilege, well, I get sort of tongue-tied.

After all, in a culture that outsources nearly every activity, where making even a birthday cake from scratch verges on a dark art, knowing your food intimately from seed to table does seem outrageously fringy.

Or at least it did. If my zeitgeist-sensor is as reliable as it ever has been, there's going to be a bit of preaching to the choir. Hopefully someone will be moved to scrape up some dirt and put something edible into it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bountiful ... and free

Seeing as I just finished a large, beautiful bowl of garden-bounty salad, I figured it's high time to put in an appearance here. Yes, we've been working hard in the yard, transforming it from a pretty typical urban backyard---neglected lawn, half-hearted attempt at welcoming social spaces---into this:

and then this:

and now this:

Back in the (proverbial) salad days, when I had more money than time, I’d hire someone to come out and advise, design, do the digging, swing the hammer. The yard reflected that, too, I think: it was pleasant enough but half-hearted and impersonal; it failed to lure us outside, to invite us to take part.

These days there’s more time than money, but we’re rockin’ the yard. Kevin and I can both swing a shovel, and it’s amazing what you can find for free. Our first veggie seeds came from Seeds of Change, picked up free at Full Belly Farm’s Hoes Down, and we planted them in containers given us by a friend.

In addition to free horse manure from local stables, we picked up a truckload of free, gorgeous topsoil from Annie’s Annuals.

Included as a bonus was a treasure trove of plantlings that apparently didn’t pass muster with them; we’ve replanted some and are anxious to see what they are.

We'll use as much rainwater as we can on our food plants, caught in four 275-gallon recycled, food-grade plastic totes, and gray water from baths and laundry on the rest.

Having a carpenter for a partner helps, too: lumber for the chicken coop--to--be comes from Kevin's stash of salvaged wood; the cement slabs that make up the garden beds are the remains of a client’s patio; and a reclaimed old window forms the front of our seed-starting space.

Then there’s the free bounty that, simply, surrounds us: Fewer than 10 forays netted us a good 30 lbs of fresh mushrooms---mostly oysters but also Boletus edulis (porcini), winter chanterelles, honey mushrooms, black trumpets, cauliflower, and candy caps (for cookies)---last winter.

We’ll inoculate the fresh-cut oak logs we picked up recently and hopefully have our own supply of oysters, lion’s mane, and shiitake mushrooms for seasons to come.

We salvaged a trash bag--size bunch of perfect bagels from Noah’s; we harvested pineapple guavas and persimmons from Santa Cruz friends and neighbors and turned them into chutney and pulp. The wall of raspberries along the house we transplanted from among a neighbor’s volunteer shoots.

Kevin promises that my little pineapple guava bush will fruit---for the first time ever---under his loving care; it’s already sprouting new growth like crazy, and standing next to it smelling the exploding wisteria, it’s impossible to doubt him.

Even the mature apricot tree, transplanted just 8 weeks ago to a sunny, well-fed corner spot, is setting fruit. The apple, persimmon, and pluot trees will surely be next. The dwarf Meyer lemon, my steadfast, oldest garden friend, looks like a kid about to burst with a really, really juicy secret.

Aside from the garden, the baby chicks are becoming gawky teenagers.

In a few months their coop and yard will line the back fence and we'll add eggs to our harvest. With some luck they'll be joined by prolific bees, and honey will round out our store of foraged huckleberries, blackberries, and all those other reminders of summer that make winter a little sweeter.

This yard, though, is ours. It begs us outside to see what’s happening. It inspires us to walk in the world with our eyes open for additions that will improve it. It promises to feed our spirits as well as our bodies.

Oh, Deary Me

Just realized I'm supposed to be part of a symposium on growing local food on Saturday. I suppose I can talk about how I got a whole pound and a half of snowpeas out of my garden. . . how's that for local (but possibly not very impressive)?

I think I'd feel better with a bit more preparation. So today after I grade, that's what I'll work on. Sheesh.

Generally, I'm really happy to speak in public, but I prefer to feel as though I have some clue about my subject.

Natural Pest Control

The Katy apricot tree has one branch under seige. It's almost white with aphids. I thought I would have to resort to my favorite remedy for big aphid infestations, an oil spray. Then I went out to look at the branch this morning, and

It's a buffet for lady beetles. They have big aphid appetites, only surpassed by their larvae's appetite. Natural pest control, managing pests with their own enemies, rather than me imposing a solution.

I'm not certain that I can let the ladybugs handle all of the aphids -- it's a really big infestation. Instead of spraying with oil, though, I'll probably use my hands to brush as many aphids off as I easily can.

As my garden becomes more and more balanced, though, I should see fewer big swings in the pendulum like this. Instead, there will be smaller pest attacks, balanced with predators. In this way, the plants only sustain the damage they can manage.

And if I keep my hands to myself as much as possible, there may be even more beneficial predators soon.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

More Needle Cases

For anyone who's been waiting, more are on their way to my house right now.

If you're one of the people who have been waiting for a case, please let me know which ones you want by number and name, left to right (like Walnut #2, etc); I'm trying to go on a first-come, first-served approach.

First, all of them together (click to make bigger):

Then, the American Hardwod series II. From left to right, there are two walnut burls, two pecan burls, two Shiro plum, one cherry, one lilac, and two maple burl.

Finally, there are a few acrylic. He says he doesn't usually work in this, but they're pretty and someone might like them. They're a product of the Taiwan plastic tree! I think the ones in the middle look like Tesla coils.

I can imagine a lot of secret pal packages being livened up with one of these little beauties. It's fun having non-knitters find out about the secret underworld of those who wield sticks.