Tuesday, December 18, 2012

An afternoon adventure up stream

After a dingy start, a wind blew in around midday, busted up the clouds, the sun came out and the sky went clear blue.  I pulled together my bag of tricks; water, snack, camera and journal and headed out on what I like to call a lark.  For a change of pace I headed up Morgan Creek to see if I could find a place that I had been told had a stone circle.  I walked along the level and slower moving section of the creek, where the bottom is wide and full of pine trees on the north side, steep rocky bluffs to the south with the sinuous grey roots of beech trees spreading out through the brown leaf litter like long fingers gripping the hillside.  Then both sides became steeper, a high bluff on the north side then gave way and I found the circle, set next to one of the biggest beach trees I've ever seen.
I thought "what a perfect place to have a winter solstice gathering, too bad it's on private land."  Just beyond this point the path peters out but there is an old bridge footing with a stone wall along one side, I guess this bridge was replaced by the one that now crosses the creek at Dairyland Road.  Closer to the stone circle I also found these stepping stones across the creek.  
All of this must have been created by John Hartley (who died in the summer of 2011), when he developed Oxbow Crossing back in the late 90's, but I had not seen it before.  It seems impossible, but the few times that I walked that far upstream, I somehow missed this place.  Now the stones are all covered with moss like they've been there for a century.

I rambled on back down to our land, taking in the sounds of the high wind in the trees, coming gusty on and off.  I listened to the sound of the water as it fell down the little shelves and falls, the water level high enough to make a joyful noise, but steady, not rushing, so the eddies were clear. 
 I watched a winter wren duck in and out of this trees roots, just the sort of spot they love to search for bugs and then hop up to a perch, their tiny tails pointed straight up into the air, bobbing and twittering before disappearing back under a root or into a cavity.

It was a grand day to be out after yesterdays gloomy rain and I wandered down to my favorite bluff of rocks.  Always near the winter solstice I make a special point of visiting the places I consider the topography to have the most power and this includes the big rock outcroppings.  I was out and about for nearly 2 hours and then came home to finish up the days chores, do a little stretching and hunker down to a supper of freshly cut broccoli, lentil and collard soup made yesterday and a grilled cheese sandwich, talk about your comfort foods.  I am feeling comfortable about now.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I'm not sure, but I think he may be winning her over.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


The thermometer read 24 this morning, a hard freeze at last.  I cut this vase of roses yesterday knowing what was to come, they bring great cheer to chores at the kitchen sink.  I cleaned out my neighbors chicken coop and brought a wheelbarrow brimming with poop down to add to the compost pile. Anticipating the freeze, I pulled out the last of the beans, zinnias, nasturtiums and peppers and layered them all into a big hoop of fence wire about four feet across and three feet high. Along with the garden refuse I layered the chicken poop and freshly raked leaves.  Greens, poop, browns, water.  Greens, poop, browns, water... until I had filled the entire bin. It should get nice and hot and cook up some excellent compost for next summers planting.
Jackson Wonder Lima Beans
We enjoyed a first freeze harvest dinner that included a pot of lima beans and the last of the green beans all simmered up together, roasted long island cheese squash with lots of chopped peppers and a little pork tenderloin cooked up with a mustard cream sauce.  mmmm, mmm. We've now got a bushel of mixed peppers in 4 paper grocery sacks ripening up in the kitchen!
A Favorite Spot
It being the week of Thanksgiving, I gotta say I've got loads to be thankful for, not the least of which is plenty to eat and a roof over my head that's paid for.  I've enjoyed being home the past week, not working at the outside job, just focusing on the home place.  I cleaned the house and did tons of laundry, worked in the yard for many hours, took lots of long walks through the cold sunshiny woods and down along the creek.  It's been a very pleasant week.  Tomorrow- back to the real world, well, as real as my world gets anymore.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Still there are flowers blooming.  Still only the slightest frost the other night and no real freeze yet.  Everything is lingering, long and slow going down.  Still leaves hang on trees, red, gold, even green.  Still peppers are ripening on the plants, covered on the coldest nights with a little blanket of remay, hanging only half way down the 5 foot tall plants.  But its been enough to keep them going.  Still several dozen peppers out there. 

In earlier years we would rush and pick all the peppers at the first sign of frost, no matter how small, no matter how green.  Then we learned that wasn't necessary.  Pick the ripest ones and wait, they will keep going, often to November or later.  And if you grow peppers and you don't know this you should.  Put the under ripe ones in a brown paper bag with the top folded over and leave them at room temperature and they will ripen up over the course of the next few weeks, just don't forget to check them now and then and put the ripe ones in the fridge.  I really don't like green peppers at all, so I want all my peppers to ripen fully to red, yellow, or orange.

How swell to continue to have roses in November.  Still a few flowers here and there, adding color.  The mums are finally withering and I've begun to cut them back and weed beneath them, they harbor all sorts of little weed seedlings hiding under the fallen stems. The forever job of weeding and mulching, never ending. 
Ginger lilies, I have been cutting them and bringing them in, they give off a light gingery scent and continue to open.  The torpedo like buds hang down on a spindly thread, somehow they have the strength to lift up and another flower opens into miraculous bloom.

Still I am waiting for the leaves to come on down so that I can start raking and cleaning up in earnest.  Still there is wood to cut and split.  Still there are gutters to clean.  I took a coil of our local hot Italian pork sausage from the freezer today, tonight- stuffed peppers for supper with a fresh green salad. Still happy to be alive, lucky to be in this place, grateful for the bounty, despite the chores that still remain.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Garden Club Mob

A very tidy garden, peppers and zinnias in the distance, still going in mid-November!
With a little help from our friends, the veg patch is looking very spiffy right now.  There was an amazing stretch of warm weather last week with Sat-Mon  in the 70's,  nothing like warm sunshine to motivate outdoor work.  On Saturday our besties John and Michele came out in the afternoon and together we cut back the dead fern and weeded the two, forty foot asparagus rows that we share.  Yesterday I picked up a scoop of compost from the landfill and John and I worked together to top the beds with a couple of inches of that black goodness and finished with a few more inches of composted leaf mulch.  I said to him "These are some of the best cared for asparagus beds in the world".

In between the asparagus marathon, my friends Diana and Celeste and Celeste's friend Weegy came out on Sunday for the first of what we hope will be an ongoing joint gardening effort among friends.  Locally and  now nationally there is a crop mob movement.  More geared towards large scale sustainable farms, a big group of folks work together at one location on major projects to help the farmer, they share a meal and each time go to a different farm belonging to one of the members of the mob.  As I toiled away on the homestead here I kept thinking how nice it would be to have help on certain projects, just to make more headway, and isn't it sometimes more fun to do work with friends to talk to? Not to mention more hands always make daunting jobs feel lighter.  When my friend Celeste said she was wanting to form a garden club, I proposed we combine the two ideas and the garden club mob was born. 

The sad news is that almost everyone we know that has a garden seems to also be too busy to share time in this way.  But I still have hope that our little garden mob may grow.  If you're in the vicinity and want to join the group let me know and I'll plug you in.  We are scheduled to meet at Celeste's house in early December and take on some weeding, mulching or whatever she deems most useful for her.  
Lettuce, spinach and beets, blankets ready for the frost, if it ever comes...
The group helped me tackle a corner of the veg patch that has gone to ruin over the past couple of seasons mainly because its gotten too shady to really grow veggies, so we've just been neglecting it. The result; lots of weeds, some various overgrown flowers that got tossed there on their way out of one spot but without a new home to go to, some very rambling tomatillo plants that actually put on quite a few late season fruit.  I just cooked up a couple of quarts to freeze for green salsa this winter.  The crew also helped weed and mulch the winter veg.  It was really nice to have help and company to face a job I had been avoiding for months, moral support is a wonderful thing sometimes.
Fall greens; weeded and mulched and ready for harvest and cool nights
Work done, we took a tour of our place which continues to show lots of fall color.  We still have not had a frost so mums, ginger lilies and roses are blooming.  We finished with a little potluck luncheon including home grown salad greens. Everyone came and went from 10-2 and there was still time for people to do more with their days.  I hope we'll be able to keep it going and get more folks involved, seems a very civilized way to see some great gardens, help each other out, and hopefully share plants and garden knowledge too. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Play Work

We can heave a big sigh of relief for the nation (perhaps) as a result of yesterdays outcomes, but North Carolina seems to be deeper in the mud than ever now.  It remains to be seen what impact the new NC republican administration will have on areas like education and environmental issues.   I'm not sure but I think I could have some problems in terms of finding work in my areas of interest in the future.

But I want to think positive and share another great experience I had last week when I attended a workshop on Spaces for Play, part of the Playful Pedagogy certificate program offered by the NC Zoo.  While the term Play worker sounds like an oxymoron, it is in fact a growing field promoted in England and other European countries over the past few years and is slowly being promoted here in the States.

The problem is that children these days are apparently only spending 1% of their time in free play.  This is the kind of stuff that as a child I and my contemporaries spent most of our time out of school engaged in.  Riding bikes around the neighborhood, building forts, climbing trees, exploring the woods and ponds, making up games and engaging in free, creative play, with little or no adult supervision.  Now most of a kids time is spent in organized activities like sports, music or ballet lessons, homework and clubs and what little free time kids do have they are often glued to a TV, computer or other screen-centered device that doesn't promote creative thinking, let alone any physical activity or movement that would promote good health.

Risk-taking, learning social skills, determining how to think freely and decide what's safe and what isn't are integral parts of free play.  We are generating a world of kids who are scared of being outside, raised by parents who are afraid of their kids being out of their sight.  Helicopter parents is a term that I've been hearing recently to describe the hovering worry wart types that won't let a kid have any fun.  Many folks at the conference that work with families said their role was mostly to distract parents so the kids could have some adventures while their folks weren't looking!  Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods and his Children and Nature Network tell much more about these issues and the website has great ideas for getting outside with kids.

At the workshop I got to network with cool folks from the Philly and Phoenix zoos and childcare workers and others from across NC.  Together we learned about play theory, about creating spaces for play that provide a sense of safety for the parents, like fences in the distance, but opportunities for the kids to have some fun.  The term "affordance" refers to objects in the setting that afford opportunities for creative play.  In natural settings these could be creeks, fallen logs, sticks and branches with which to build forts and other structures. They might also be stuff like manufactured objects such as Styrofoam noodles, PVC pipes, buckets, balls, clay, tarps, and nets that kids can use to construct things or create games.  Seems the main goal of the play worker is to provide a safe place for kids, with objects that can become "affordances"  and then get out of the way, only stepping in if it seems someone is actually on the verge of getting seriously injured.
Here I am inside our "fox den".  Working as a team we had to create a habitat for play.  We took advantage of the natural placement of rocks and used sticks, branches and a blue tarp to create a roof for the den.  Then we covered it all with leaves for camouflage.  It even had a back escape opening.  We managed to get 10 people into this space which was actually pretty cozy.  I had a good time, learned and networked and look forward to part 3 of the training, hopefully coming up in 2013.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Growing Community Gardens- "KALE Yeah"

Given it's election day and I don't really want to think about the possibilities of how wrong it could all turn out, I've been avoiding the news all day and trying to distract myself with cooking and other chores.  That said- I feel it would be good to do a post about something really positive that I was involved in recently.
 Hopes and dreams of community garden organizers
Dozens of flip chart pages surrounded our group two weeks ago at Walnut Hall in Tanglewood Park.  I was pleased to help co-facilitate an exciting and action packed training workshop in Winston-Salem where 50 community garden leaders from across North Carolina came together to learn and practice information and training workshops as a part of the Growing Communities curriculum produced by the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA).  It was a tremendous couple of days that I had been working on pulling together for a year with a group of folks from the NC Community Garden Partners.  The planning committee raised money to give 10 scholarships and offer the workshop at a very low rate.  Thanks to many generous folks including NC and A&T State Universities' Cooperative Extensions, Forsyth Farm Bureau, Carolina Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and Take Step Two of Pitt County among others.

People came from all kinds of gardening projects; some run by churches and food pantries to help feed the hungry, others from school-based gardens, traditional allotment style gardens, senior center and public housing sites.  Some folks were seasoned, others very new to the world of community gardening.  A key lesson is helping people to understand it's not enough to build some beds, put up a fence and find a water source.  You have to build a community group strategically and carefully in order for the garden to really succeed.  It is recommended that at least 10 committed people are ready to come to the table before even beginning to organize a community garden.  Half of those will probably drop out or fade away over time and the people with a "fire in the belly" are the key to long term success.

We worked intensively for 2 solid days and I think the folks were really energized and inspired to get back home and put the learning into practice.  The goal of the Growing Communities training is to teach gardeners how to be better organizers. It is often said that community gardens fail not because people can't grow beautiful tomatoes, but because they are poorly organized.  And as a person that has been trying to make 3 community gardens successful for about 5 years now with mixed results, I can say this is very true.  This was the second time I had attended this training and I carried back lots of new ideas and reminders of old knowledge too. All will help me continue my work of making the Growing Healthy Kids gardens with which I work more successful, more community driven, community run and organized entities.

One of the strategies of the training is to throw the participants together into small groups where they are  charged with developing an 85 minute presentation on a garden organizing topic to be presented the following afternoon. Not only do they have to do this with a group of strangers, they have to familiarize themselves with the educational info and workshop materials of the Growing Communities training manual in a very short time frame.  People really came through and in the session on Communications and PR we were left with the rallying cry "Community Gardens- KALE Yeah!!"

Nuff said.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

October Blooms

Just when I think the garden is winding down I am pleased to see mums and asters coming into their prime.  I know they will be blooming now but it still comes as a bit of a surprise each fall.  This is a combo that I am particularly fond of.  The aster I think is Aster Fricartii, Wonder of Staffa.  I got it from my father some years back and it is a winner, blooming here in the Piedmont of NC from September into late October.  I especially like it together with this dark pink mum and so we have planted them together along one edge of the yard.
  Camellia Cecilia in Bud
The camellias too are beginning to open.  We've planted lots of them in the past few years ever since I  worked at Camellia Forest and now they are beginning to get settled in and offer a good show of blooms.  I've decided camellias are a bit fickle, they need enough sun and light to set flowers but not so much that they get burned in the winter time.  It also seems quite helpful to feed them a couple of times a year to help set good buds.  The ones we've managed to put in the right place and treat well are finally rewarding us with blooms and more vigorous growth.  
Camellia Cecilia
A friend once said that when you add new shrubs and trees to the landscape "the first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap" and I think there is a lot of truth to this statement. Things are doing especially well this year as we had a decent amount of rain in the second half of the summer and early fall.

Here is another mum that is a great shade.  We have a variety of colors as mums tend to cross and mix over time.  Some have gotten kind of washed out and are almost white or a very pale pink and others have gone quite dark, some almost red.  It's interesting to see what happens over time if they are allowed to mix and blend. 

I worked outside all afternoon, it was a glorious day and finally I felt I was getting on the other side of the cold I've had this week.  Unfortunately, despite my best efforts at hand washing and trying to avoid contaminating him, David is now down with the same bug.  Oh well, the least I can do is go pull some dinner together for us.

Friday, October 19, 2012

In trying times, try gardening for a change

I was miffed to discover recently that most of my Chapel Hill News Articles (listed on the right side of my blog page)  have been sent to the archives and can no longer be read by clicking on the link there.  Reading through them in my files, I think these are pretty good pieces and I want people to be able to link to them, as an example of my published work. I do aspire to actually publish more work sometime in this life!

So, I decided I would "reprint" a few of the favorites here and I think this one written in October of 2008 seems fairly appropriate with the election coming up.  See what you think.

Originally published in The Chapel Hill News October 22, 2008:

October is the month when my partner David and I begin to chip away at the list of annual fall tasks that include cleaning out the stove pipes and gutters, cutting firewood, cleaning up the gardens and laying a fresh layer of mulch around the perennials.  It gives us a break from the incessant discussions about the election and the failing economy.

Motivation for chores can be hard when the days are filled with brilliant color from changing leaves against clear blue skies. We want to take a break from the hard work of the summer garden and enjoy the autumn.  I want to escape from digging shrub holes and walk down to the creek to watch the falling leaves swirl down out of the trees and drift lazily along the surface of the water. 

We’ve wiled away some recent afternoons roaming around our place, discussing plans for the landscape.  Where to build stone walls, make new pathways, or plant additional trees and shrubs.  Living in the country with land around us offers an endless opportunity for expansion. It’s a bit like a balloon note on a sub-prime mortgage, for every hour spent planning; there will be 100 hours of doing required.  The longer we live here, the more grandiose the schemes become, the older we get, the slower the projects are completed, but instead of worrying about our bank accounts or the latest smear campaign, we ponder which bulbs to order and where to plant them.
I want to turn off NPR and enjoy the flower garden which has entered another phase of bloom worthy of long contemplation.  Pink, salmon and purple mums and blue asters billow out of the beds, punctuated by the bright oranges, reds and yellows of late zinnias putting on one last show. 

As the days grow shorter, and the election closer, our desire for comfort foods increases.  Unable to completely let go and eager for the latest in the ongoing political and financial battles, we listen to the radio while eating suppers of tender homegrown salads made festive with beets and carrots, sharp with radishes and nasturtiums.   The cool weather allows us to turn on the oven and bake; the scent of crusty loaves of bread, homemade veggie pizzas, and apple-oatmeal muffins wafts from our kitchen.

As November approaches; the sun moves lower, shadows grow longer and the stock market continues its roller coaster ride.  A delicate balance has to be achieved between enjoying the gorgeous days, getting necessary work done before winter, and not letting politics take over every conversation.  Maintaining our place is an effort, but if everything goes awry, at least we’ll have vegetables to eat, a beautiful garden to relax in and endless chores to help take our minds off the financial problems.  

Hope you enjoyed this one, it seems not much has really changed.  Look for others as we roll along, I'll try to add them as seems timely.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grey Speckled Cow Peas

So I'm home with a cold, not so sick that I have to take to my bed, sometimes I think I would prefer that- well I say I would- but really?  All the same, I'm feeling crummy enough to not have energy for much of anything.  I hate this- I'm a terrible patient, there are so many things that I need and want to be doing.  You know- house cleaning would be kind of a good idea, its been weeks, or working out in the garden.  It's a spectacular fall day, clear and sunny, just under 70 degrees, there are fall veggies to weed and mulch, summer veggies to pull out, weeds and mulching over the whole place actually would be very useful.  But instead, I'm doing light duty things like shelling peas.

I have this handy little sheller that I inherited from my mother, shoots the shells out one end and the peas back at you.  It's the kind of task that would be good to have small children around for so they could run after the peas that fly across the room.  But there are none of those here, so I instead, put on my spectacles and rove around picking up all that I can find that have been flung to the far corners of the house.

These grey speckled cow peas are a new variety for me.  You know, if you're a regular reader, about my zaniness for beans.  These are an heirloom variety, in the same family as the purple hull black-eyed peas that I've grown for many years, but entirely different in nature.  For one- they are impossible to shell when fresh but need to be picked as they are starting to dry out and then allowed to dry out completely before attempting to shell them.  The purple hulls are quite easy to shell by hand when fresh and pop into the freezer for later use as "fresh" peas.  I've yet to cook any of these speckled peas, though they are very beautiful with their mauve mottled coloration and white eyes.  I think this would make an excellent Formica pattern for a kitchen counter.  Or maybe a screen saver background.
I'll let you know how they taste when I get around to cooking some, I'm guessing I might get about a quart of dried beans off my tiny experimental patch. I planted an area about 5x6, that has reached to more like 10x10, they're a bit rambling and very prolific.  I like that in a bean.

So I'm off for another cup of ginger lemon tea with honey accept I'm out of honey so thinking of trying sorghum, I've got lots of that, I wonder if it will have the same soothing properties?  Will see.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Back from the beach and settling into autumn

Once again, despite my spouting to the contrary- another month has whooshed past without a post.  It's amazing.  I don't even have a really good excuse accept I've just been distracted by life I guess.
Hitt-Rogers Clan
We did spend a week at our favorite beach house at Trout and Ocean and were so lucky and delighted to have the entire Missouri faction of the family show up to share the fun.  Most special was the delectable Aria, all the way from Olympia, Washington, my grand niece and she was grand, I absolutely ate her up every morsel!
My brother Jon is about the only person I know that would welcome the above combo, peanut butter and onion on the left, pimento cheese on the right, all washed down with a cold brew.  I think this was the day he boasted of taking not one, but two naps.  Now that's truly being on holiday.
Our encampment, daily erected in some variation on the colorful theme. Late afternoon- everyone was probably at the house eating or napping.

Back at home, we've had hot and humid weather followed by cold and rainy.  In fact its been the wettest late summer/early autumn period that I remember in some years.  I'm glad to have the rain and see all the waterways flowing fully, but hoping to see some of that crisp, dry, sunny weather in the very near future that truly speaks autumn to me.

The fall veggie garden planted about a month ago just before our exit for the beach is coming along famously, all the seeds are up, carrots, spinach, lettuce, chois, turnips.  The only thing that's a little rough are the beets which got attacked by caterpillars when I wasn't looking, we'll see if I rescued them in time. The broccoli, cabbage and collards are loving the cool, wet weather.  Hoping to be able to start harvesting some greens in a few more weeks.  I start to really crave fresh greens about now and have been eating up the ones I froze in the sprig time.  We've also been making big pots of soup and baking bread to make us comfy on the chilly wet days.

I'm glad the summer is finally past and really looking forward to fall and winter and slowing down a tad.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Turn on that oven and bake!

With the drop in temperature the interest in cooking has been renewed with verve. Building on the fact that I had a dairy extravaganza last week, precipitated by an over accumulation of cream in the freezer.   I made two pounds of butter which also yielded about 2 quarts of buttermilk and some creme fresh.  I also made yogurt and yogurt cheese.  Next came two buttermilk apple crumb cakes and last night a bodacious buttermilk spoon bread.  Spoon bread is an interesting cross between cornbread and polenta or mush.  Last night I added fresh corn, pasilla chiles, and chopped green onions, the resulting dish was hearty, creamy, sweet, (though I added no sugar) and quite satisfying. Recipe below.

I was surprised in the garden yesterday to see the sweet potatoes blooming.  A pretty flower, like a morning glory, which is in the same plant family.  There has been a battle of sorts going on for the past couple of months between the sweet potatoes which always grow rampant and run over everything around them and the Long Island Cheese squash.

Sweet potatoes are one of the happiest crops in our climate.  There is a reason North Carolina is the largest producer of sweet potatoes in the country raising close to 40% of all the sweet potatoes grown in the US, they grow VERY happily here.  Lately, eating the greens seems to be the rage, everyone is talking about it, and the way they grow, its worth trying.  So last night we did.  Just the tender tips and youngest leaves, washed and sauteed like spinach in olive oil with a little garlic, S&P, they were quite tasty.  I've heard they are also super nutritious.  Researching a bit I see its recommended that they are blanched in boiling water for a couple of minutes before stir-frying them, but we did not do that and they were still good.
The Long Island Cheese squashes huge pizza sized leaves rambled down through the sweet potato patch and even up into the pepper cages. They have traveled easily 40 feet down the row and back again.
One squash hangs down between a couple of pepper plants, another is over in the asparagus patch.  I had tried this squash once before but unsuccessfully.  They are a type of butternut but not as dense or sweet, the flesh is slightly more stringy, a little like a spaghetti squash, light and good flavored. This year we put the seeds in the ground and just got out of the way!  The result; four good sized squashes from two plants. I think pound for pound the sweet potatoes will win out but everyone seems to have come to an amicable sharing of space.
This one here is the biggest and best. 12.5 Pounds 
I can just see Cinderella riding off to the ball in this dude

So for the spoon bread, here's the recipe which is a doubling of the original from the Joy of Cooking, plus my embellishments, always embellishing...

Buttermilk Spoon Bread 6-8 servings
Pour 3 cups boiling water over 2 cups yellow cornmeal, mix well and let cool
beat together 2 eggs, 2 T melted butter, 2 cups buttermilk, 2 t baking soda and 1.5 t salt
Scrape the kernels from two ears of corn (or open a can or use frozen, about 1 cup of kernels)
Roast, skin, seed and chop 2 pasilla, poblano or other mild green chiles
Chop a cup of green onions
Mix it all together and pour into a buttered dish to bake at 350 for about an hour or until set.
I used a deeper corning ware dish , if you used a flatter baking dish, like a 9x12 it will probably bake faster and be drier.  I think sprinkling some grated cheese over top, cheddar or jack or a combo would be a good addition too.

Monday, September 10, 2012

This Morning

Mondays are my super official day off.  Not that I'm working much at all lately, or getting much else accomplished because of a little back trouble of late.  But still.  I've been repeating a mantra since my return from vacation "Commune with the world outside, nature, the garden, and write about it".  And so, after my morning pages and coffee and cake and David got off to work, I headed out, down past the pond to the creek again.  Today was cool, I had on pants and socks and shoes. 

Patiently following a low slow thunking yielded a pileated woodpecker, his crest so brilliant, like a flame bursting out of the top of his head.  And a black and white warbler, first one since spring, busily eating bugs.  I'm reminded that when birding in the fall, it's not so much about sound and song as movement, the warbler was making not a peep, it was the chatter of some other bird that drew my eye up to where he fed.
This funny flower is blooming in profusion where the power cut meets the pond.  I've yet to ID it, but it's taller than me and on close examination I see the flowers have only 2 or 3 petals.  At first I thought they had lost some but I see that no, this is how they grow.  Anyone know what this might be?

No matter how quietly I approach the pond, the turtles kerplunk into the water before I can spot them, they must feel the vibration of me walking.  I never know what might be hanging out on the water, herons, ducks, otters or beavers, but not today, just the mud turtles, splashing back into the brown water where they wait for me to walk on by.

Again I saw the deer, same spot, today only two, they ran across the creek this time then stood, white tails flicking, watching me watch them.  They were silhouetted in the sunlight, I could see the whiskers on their chins, the light passing through their tall black edged ears.  Eventually they snorted, stomped and zig-zagged away into the forest. 

At this sparkly place, where the creek is particularly chatty, right where I had been wading just yesterday afternoon, a barred owl flew silently up and out of the creek.  I tried to follow- see where he landed, crept along the path and scared him up two mores times, flying further into the tree tops, I never could spot him with my binoculars but know that if I had, he would have been staring right back at me, waiting for my next move.

I've been reading Annie Dillard.  Had never been able to get into Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for some reason.  The wild tangents perhaps, she can go on a tangent.  But I'm giving it another try and its working for me this time, even though I have to press on through some sections.  But there are moments of brilliance throughout- guess that's why she got the Pulitzer huh?  For example: "Night is rising in the valley; the creek has been extinguished for an hour, and now only the naked tips of trees fire tapers into the sky like trails of sparks."

I want to spend the next 3 seasons being the Pilgrim at Morgan Creek.  Let's just see if I can make it happen, maybe you'll come along for the ride?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Down at the Creek

We've had 6.5 inches of rain since last Monday, including a true gully washing frog strangler on Thursday afternoon when we got 3.5 inches in about an hour.  The result is that the creeks are up and flowing again. Our little wash has moving water for the first time since late spring.  Down at Morgan Creek today I could see the swept clean banks where the water had been up several feet after the downpour last Thursday.
Evidence of the big water in our little creek, flotsam on the left and right bank swept clean.

Heading down the hill today I startled 3 deer, they jumped and ran then stopped when I stopped.  We had a stand off for quite a while, they not moving, me not moving, looking right at each other but I think they couldn't see me, just knew something was up.  I had the thought that if I'd had a bow or rifle I could have had some venison about then.  I finally got tired of standing still and once I took a step, the deer furthest back in the group stomped and huffed and they were off like a shot and out of sight.

The flowing clear water beckoned and I went wading.  Stood for a long while feeling the air on my face and chill water on my feet and legs.  Light dappled all around me and danced on the water. 

A downy woodpecker tapped on a branch over the creek, titmice squabbled in the tree tops, a barred owl hooted in the distance.  
Before the flood earlier this week I snapped this picture of a cardinal flower. There were lots of them blooming, growing in the creek bed on sand bars, surrounded by the invasive microstegia.  All now flattened, their red petals washed away in the torrent, their roots hang on to hopefully bloom another year.

The weather today was a balm, after all that rain and a hot humid week, we woke to a cool dry day.  The windows are open again for the first time in a while and the sound of frogs is coming in the screens, we'll sleep good tonight and need to pull a blanket up around us come early morning.  Autumn is on the way and I am ready.

Friday, September 7, 2012

In the Bean Patch

You know I'm a beanaholic.  Since we were away for most of August, I timed the second planting of beans for mid-July with hopes they would be fruiting now, when we returned.  Bingo.

This patch includes a jumble of zinnias, falling into the paths but they give such cheer its worth climbing around them to get to the beans.  Grey-speckled cow peas in the foreground, an heirloom variety new to me that I'm hopeful about.  Haricot verts next- Taverna- reliable and a heavy producer of small, tender, sweet beans.  On the trellis at the back is Vortex, a new pole bean I'm trying, they are very long yet string-less and tender.  I think they would be the perfect bean for dilly beans with their long-straight habit making them easy to pack and pretty in jars.
Furthest out on the trellis, another heirloom bean, Garden of Eden, long, flat yet tender, cooks in 3 minutes!.  either side of the trellis I also planted lima beans, they are a bit shaded by everything else but coming along.
Bean flowers promising many more to come 
  While picking I almost grabbed this guy who was prowling around in the leaves looking a lot like a bean.

The end products; Vortex on left, Garden of Eden in center, haricot vert-Taverna on right.  And flowers to brighten the table.  Think there will be beans on the menu tonight- possibly with some home grown red potatoes and chanterelles picked in the woods this humid warm week.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Surviving July

A Typical Day's Haul

I've been thinking lately that July is pretty much just about surviving anymore, and August too for that matter.  Me, the plants, the animals, we are all just trying to get through the hot, humid weeks and make it to the other side.  I hear those of us in North Carolina are not the only ones suffering and maybe not even suffering the worst with highs in the upper 90's and into the 100's all across the country over the past few weeks, it's just brutal in general.  The only thing that's saving us here is a fair amount of rain keeping things alive.

It's been a while since my last post and we are just hanging in trying to stay on top of the weeds and the harvest and holding our breath till we leave for a much anticipated vacation to the Pacific Northwest where they are experiencing Junuary, with highs in the 60's. I'm so ready.  The idea of needing a fleece at night has me positively giddy.

In the meantime, here is a bit of what I've been up to lately.
This guy was so tall I had to get up on a step stool to take this picture.   It came up voluntarily in the veg garden and we enjoyed it for a few weeks until the wind blew it down and after I stood it back up, the squirrels pulled it down again to snack on the seeds. SQUIRRELS! The bums, they have been eating tomatoes and blueberries so we polished off the 22 and popped a few as they fed under the bird feeder. Think we got the worst offenders though there are always more and the wiliest ones are staying out of range.

It was time to harvest the last of the beets, not a bad showing for the end of the season.  About 8 pounds. We had them roasted, boiled and I pickled 6 pints for later.  Delish.

On a rare and horridly hot and steamy walk I encountered this handsome lad.  Just down the trail about 10 feet was a female.  Not sure if they were just about to find each other or had just finished an encounter.  Or maybe they were just minding their own business, I traveled on.

And finally, in the silly/freak vegetable category, the donut cucumber.

Other wise, we took a short trip to the mountains, missing a few of the 100+ days in late June, spent our time sitting with our feet in the creek or standing under waterfalls, dipping into pools, really a blessing. I went to the beach for a day trip with a couple of girlfriends, crazy: 6 hours in the car, 6 on the beach, but worth it to dip into the Atlantic and watch the waves roll in. 

So now we are just counting the days until we depart for the cool climes and hope that things will survive while we are gone under the watchful eyes of neighbors, family and friends who will pick and water and eat the bounty that we will be leaving behind.  Hopefully I can get a couple of batches of tomato sauce into the freezer before we leave and there will still be some figs when we get back.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer is really here

The day lilies continue to brighten the edge of the lawn and the front pathway with multiple shades of red, orange, yellow, pink and purple, lots of hot colors to match the hot weather.

I walked into the shed today to get some string to tie up the tomatoes and startled a baby wren that flew into the window.  It fell into a plastic tub of nuts and bolts, wings spread out.  I picked the soft brown baby up, unsure if it was going to revive, held it firmly but gently in my hand and carried it outside behind the shed to search for a safe spot to set it down.  The small eyes, with cream colored eyebrows arching above were shut, the eyelids grayish white. 

I feared the bird was dying, held it closer to my face to see if I could sense breathing or movement, just then the bird twitched and fought its way out of my hands.  The little one landed on the trunk of a big pine tree and within one second a parent was there feeding it.  Amazing; mom or dad, not sure which, was watching the whole time as I brought the fledgling out and was totally ready to rush to the rescue as soon as it flew from my grasp.  Pretty cool.

There have been loads of baby birds all around the yard and farm lately. Last week I spied 4 baby killdeer toddling around in one of the pastures.  Grey and white striped fluff balls on long toothpick legs.  They bobbed their heads and cheeped while the parents performed their best "Hey look over here" distraction routines, feigning broken wings, flopping around on the ground, running down the driveway ahead of me to get me off the scent of their babies.  Pretty funny.

It is to be close to 100 this week- finally summer comes with a vengeance.  I'm trying to get the last of the spring crops harvested now; beets and turnips need out of the ground, all the onions are curing, all the greens either picked and eaten or fed to the chickens because they were being consumed by caterpillars.  Summer crops are starting to trickle in, cucumber and squash are sweet and full of water, blueberries are ripening at the rate of a pint a day.  Still haven't had our first ripe tomato so I broke down and bought some from my brother at the market last weekend, we had our first BLT of the season tonight for supper with potato salad, beet and cucumber salad and an ear of corn.

Now that was a meal that really felt like summer.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Nature drama; bluebirds vs. black snakes

This was the scene of nature in action this morning.  As I was getting dressed I heard the birds making a ruckus and when I looked out the window, I could see a black snake disappearing into the bluebird house in the middle of the fence.  I threw on my clothes, grabbed the fireplace poker and charged to the rescue, I tried to hook the snake with the poker but it just kept slipping into the house and out of reach.  So I ran and grabbed a screw driver and came back and loosened the bottom screw allowing me to open the house by lifting the front up.  I then hooked the snake and carried it across the lawn and tossed it down.  One dead baby fell to the ground and another hopped out, two more were in the nest with their heads down.  I picked up the live baby and popped it back into the nest and closed the front.  I turned around to see the snake heading back so I tossed the dead baby to it.  The snake pounced on the little guy and immediately started choking it down and then slithered into the day lilies on the fence line.  When I looked over to the nest again the one baby had hopped out again.  The parents were flying back and forth chattering like mad.  I've seen this played out many seasons in our yard.  When the parents decide its time for the babies to fledge they fly back and forth across the yard talking to the babies, its like they are trying to coax them out. I realized it was this very behavior that probably drew the snake in in the first place, alerting him to the fact that there were babies to be had.  I picked the baby up again and shoved it back in but it popped back out- determined to make its way, so I watched as it hopped away towards the blueberry patch.

Thinking the snake had its fill, I headed onto my days task of weeding the blueberries. But no sooner had I gotten down to business than I heard the birds going crazy again and looked up to see a snake sliding across the fence from the right, I think this was actually a second snake, different from the first.  I grabbed a stick this time and wrapped the snake up like twirling a piece of spaghetti, pulling it from the fence and carried it down into the woods where I hurled it down.  Came back up and saw a baby bird hopping across the grass.  At this point I realized that I was out of my element getting in the middle of this whole play.  But I was still concerned for the baby.  The parents were again flying back and forth chattering, all the birds in the yard were getting into the mix, flying past the house, even perching on top and peeking in, first a chickadee, then a chipping sparrow. And everyone was making alarm calls.

Then I saw the adult bluebird hovering low over the grass and I realized the snake was heading back for the nest, I picked it up again with the stick.  It was doing its best cobra imitation, pulled back like it was going to strike, tongue flickering out of its mouth, it was even able to make its head look kind of triangular like a venomous snake, pretty impressive, but I still carried it on down to the edge of the lawn and gave it a fling.  this time it seemed it wasn't coming back.

I watched as the baby cheeped and hopped up across the patio and past the back door. I could see the parents were keeping an eye on it so at that point I went in and did some Google searching on baby bluebirds.  Turns out that when they fledge they spend the first 5-7 days hopping around on the ground-  it seems a miracle that any of them live to adulthood given the number of snakes and other predators that are around.  Once I read that, I decided I really needed to step back and let nature take its course. 

I did spend some time reading about devices and techniques to keep bird houses safe from snakes and might put some effort into snake proofing our bluebird house for next season. I also wondered about the other two babies still in the nest.  I resisted the temptation to open the box and peek in, figured they would either fly or die and it wasn't my place to interfere.  But it was an exciting if sad encounter, and I did get to hold a baby bluebird which was pretty cool.

On other fronts, it's day lily time and they are starting to really put on a show.  We added a bunch of new varieties including many in the red and purple color range a couple of years ago and they are starting to get well established now.
 Dark Star- these flowers are about 6 inches across

I harvested the first batch of early onions last week and they are curing, many more to come. And the garlic is out of the ground now and curing as well.  A good looking crop again this year.
 The blueberries are loaded and we are just waiting for them to start ripening up.

We've been having a spectacular patch of cool dry weather that came following an inch of rain.  Fingers crossed that the good weather and decent rains will continue into summer, I'm always skeptical and prepared for the worst, but for now its great to have the windows open and feel the breeze.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Vegetables keep coming, tender and delicious

Kales and cabbage dappled with raindrops

The greens continue to grace our garden and our plates on a daily basis, though their season is coming to a close.  I picked all the spinach last week as it was starting to bolt and I taste the lettuce cautiously before picking, expecting any day it will be turning too bitter to eat.
I tried this new spinach this year called Bordeaux.  Very pretty with the red stems and tender for salads but bolted fast, not a hot weather favorite.

The peas came on heavy for a couple of weeks and are now slowing down, but with a cooler week forecast, perhaps they'll have a renaissance?

Broccoli had to be harvested all at once before bursting into yellow flowers, I was kind of glad I only had 3 plants, that's a lot of broccoli to eat all at once, and there is still some in the fridge.

So the spring garden slowly transitions to summer as these greens fade out and squash, beans, cukes and tomatoes grow rapidly, begin to set flowers and soon will bring a new variety of flavors to our kitchen.

It's good to be alive and a gardener.