Slow Growth, And Making Progress

It’s been a good year since I’ve moved into the house in WV.  Even though I’ve had a flood in the basement twice, one dog having a personal dance with a skunk, and other tiny mishaps, I’ve made progress.  The garden did get started and I built nine raised beds.  I have three rain barrels connected to two downspouts and several more to set up.  I’ve started drawing up designs for them and hope to get around to painting this winter.  I used no city water on my plants; only natural rain and harvested rain water.  And now I need to figure out a better way to get the water closer to the garden.  With fall and winter just around the corner, I will have time to think of a good plan.

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My first year’s crops included three types of strawberries, gourds, melons, swamp milkweed, sunflowers, zinnias, heirloom tomatoes (German green, Mr. Stripey and Cherokee Purple), Roma tomatoes, purple bush beans, lemon cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, kale, purple potatoes, German butter potatoes, carrots, corn, and beets.  During September I will harvest the mid-summer plants, and there’s a late planting of carrots, kale, beans, and beets for late fall.  There’s also some medicinal Echinacea, lemon balm, rosemary, chives and three types of basil.


I don’t believe many of the strawberries ever made it into the house.  Most times I just picked and immediately ate them right from the garden.  I did harvest some garlic and had mixed success on my second year of planting.

In the front of the house, I planted a large bed of wildflowers, tomatoes, sunflowers, corn and hops.  The hops did not do as well because it’s not in a good site.  I will transplant it to the back for next year, along with more roots.  I have more plans for the front that will include some landscaping of edible shrubs, trees and more wildflowers.  057

The garden had many nefarious insects this year, but no real devastation.  A few japanese beetles showed up, and yet no stink bugs.  I’ve had a number of pollinators show up, such as honey and bumblebees, and some butterflies. I found a Black Swallowtail larva earlier this summer on dill planted outside the kitchen door.  And yesterday, while looking over the garden, I spotted a Monarch larva on the swamp milkweed plant.  After looking much closer, I found about 18 larvae between the two plants that I have.  I was so excited, I took a short video of one munching away and reported it to The Journey North.


The deer have not ventured this close to the house.  But I’ve seen them in the very back of the yard where there is an old apple tree.  Many rabbits are enjoying my garden though and they’ve been munching on the gourds and the vines.

I was able to can 7 pints of bread and butter pickles, and 7 pints of tomato sauce from Romas I bought at the Charles Town farmers market in West Virginia.


This time, I did not start a fire in the oven and the sauce turned out just fabulous. The only other canning I plan to do this year will be applesauce.  I’m now looking for orchards that are either organic or use Integrated Pest Management and very little to no spraying.  I plan on using my grandmother’s food mill that I remember being able to use as a young girl when my mom was making applesauce.  There’s some good memories there that I remember. And I can still see the kitchen table, the large bowl with the food mill placed over the bowl and my mom at the stove cooking the apples.


Next year I hope to have a dehydrator in my arsenal so I can put up more goods.  I plan to double the size of the garden and plant more varieties of vegetables and fruits.  There’s a hedgerow plan in mind that I’d like to plant down the long side of the property and along some openings on the other side, too. This will be much better than building a fence.

One cherry tree didn’t make it, but it followed me here from Colorado after being shipped there before I moved in 2013.  It was a Christmas gift from my sister.  I had it in a large pot at the first house upon moving back, but it didn’t seem to take to the last transplant into the ground.  I also planted two choke cherries, two elderberry plants, a red oiser dogwood, cranberry viburnum, two apple trees and two cherry trees and next spring I want to plant blackberries and raspberries.



The front yard will need a lot more of something to cut down on the amount of grass.  I used MapMyWalk while cutting the grass with a push mower and the total distance came to 4.77 miles. I’ve hired someone to help me with my outdoor chores such as mowing and digging holes which helps me tremendously.  Eventually, I’ll order about 10 yds of topsoil to fill in places, mix with compost for more garden beds, and build up the front yard where it has nothing but shale.  I’m thinking of planting a mix of white and red clover in the front yard. It needs the nitrogen and will bring more pollinators too.

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So, I’m slowly making progress. It’s not what I was hoping, but then it is pretty good for the first year.  While it may seem like a lot of work, it gives me a lot of pleasure.  Most especially when I see Monarch caterpillars munching on the swamp milkweed and smell the light scent of a night-blooming moon flower!


Yes, it’s a new year!

I hope the new year finds us all making plans (not resolutions) to find ways to start growing our own food, buying more locally, visiting more Farmer’s Markets and local farmers in our areas. I haven’t blogged since last August; and not because I’ve had nothing to say; just couldn’t get it out of my head and typed out. I’ve probably been in a funk. Sometimes I focus on silly things like still being single after all these years and that can temporarily keep me from being the active, creative and dynamic person I know I am. So, it’s time to dust myself off and get back to what I know and love and to new adventures. At 58, it’s time to get moving! I’ll just blame this round on old man winter. 042.jpg

There have been so many topics in my head and a few rants. I’ve been in the new house since the end of July and it’s been somewhat of an adventure. The house sat empty for five years and didn’t sell until I bought it. While it’s the right house for me, it’s proving to be a bit of a bugger with a few hidden problems that have surfaced. I’ll admit they’ve stressed me out. Things such as: coming home several times to a flooded basement; backing into the garage door because I didn’t wait long enough for it to rise completely; breaking the glass stove top to a tune of $400; and leaving the hose on for nine hours one summer day. Yes, yes, I know, there are others with worse problems than mine; and while I acknowledge that and know that I am a pretty lucky person, it still doesn’t help during these albeit minor events. Often what goes through my head is the comment: “if I only had a mate who would be here to help me” or “shit, ‘insert name here’ can deal with it!” So, yeah, I can freak out, which actually some might consider not being able to handle it, but hell it gets it out of my system and then I can deal with the situation. And yes, I do  handle whatever comes my way. Just don’t talk to my dogs or the cat because they may tell you differently, but they still love me anyway!

???????????????????????????????Taking a pay cut after moving back to the Mid-Atlantic has its disadvantages, but there are many trade offs such as the quietness of the country, seeing the stars at night, and  little traffic.  It’s a bonus for me. I am nine miles from work taking windy, twisty two-lane roads. There’s very little traffic to deal with on these roads and I only have to dodge the occasional idiot crossing the line or deer. The drive to work has filled my head with subjects to write about.  One that gets my panties in a knot is littering.  Out here, I have noticed many like to toss their garbage onto the sides of back roads and it is depressing to see.  They also toss bags of deer carcasses hither and yon.  I drive through this four-state region and I mostly see it in West Virginia. At least with the snow covering, it’s temporarily hidden. So some other time I will write about this and what to do about it, if anything!384

Recently, I sat down with the seed catalogs and started putting together my list for the 2014 growing season. I’m getting excited now! Mate or no mate, I’ve got gardening plans to put together! I also want to build a greenhouse and potting shed. I would like to try to find building materials that I can repurpose such as old doors and windows and build the shed. I also need to put up a fence around the perimeter to keep the dogs from chasing rabbits and cats; but have to wait until the ground thaws. I’ve decided on the Red brand fencing with the green posts that you can just stick into the ground. The backyard is about a ¼ acre plot and that is more than enough land to grow whatever I want. This spring I will be planting three cherry trees, blueberries, American hazelnut, redozier dogwood and elderberry shrubs. I was able to get the cranberry viburnum planted last September in front of the house. The front yard is about ¼ acre as well and I just may take half of that and plant red clover. The soil, or clay and shale, actually needs help. I’m considering using sheet mulching methods to plant the clover seed to begin improving the soil and reduce the amount of grass. Wildflowers will find a place in the front and back.  I want to attract as many birds and bees as possible here. Walking through the neighborhood, I often wonder why most continue to plant and keep up grass. It’s too much work for me. I like grass, don’t get me wrong, and it has its place in some regards, but I would prefer to have a yard filled with shrubs, herbs, vegetables and fruit, trees and pathways. I’m beginning to think the West Virginia state animal is the riding mower. I may not make many friends with the neighbors, but we’ll deal with that on a case by case basis, or not at all.

With some of the problems that I’ve experienced with the house, I’ve begun to think of ways to turn these problems into solutions. The flooding of the basement has to do with the sump pump and the pipe that leads out into the yard. The builders placed the pipe about two feet in the ground and it extended about 40 feet out. The problem started when the water being pumped out had no exit except into clay soil which then backed the water into the basement. The pipe eventually broke apart at a joint about 10 feet from the house underground and blew a hole up to the surface. What you need to realize is, I did not know the pipe actually ended into clay and that’s what caused this problem in the first place. So I had the pipe repaired and thought all will be good. Then in October we had five inches of rain in three days. I opened up the basement door one morning to find 6 inches of water covering the entire basement. Luckily, there’s nothing down there but the furnace, water heater (up on blocks—yeah West Virginia!) and the de-humidifier (also up on blocks). I don’t have the refrigerator or cars in my yard up on blocks, just critical house components in the basement! Oh now I understand what didn’t sink in or wasn’t relayed to me when I bought the house.  053

The problem was resolved by a friend who cut the original pipe and attached a new 20 foot pipe out into the yard. Within a few days all the water in the basement was gone and out in the yard. I swear this house sits over a spring. Where is this water coming from? The sump pump constantly runs and empties water into the back yard. I added another 20-foot section because the water was too close to the house. And all was dry and good again, until I went away one weekend in December and came home to another flooded basement. Shit! The pipe, which is above ground, froze and the water filled the basement again. I didn’t think to remove the eight inches of snow from ton too of the pipe before I left town.   I had had enough and proceeded to temporarily lose my mind,  then set about to resolve this problem. I removed the snow and covered the pipe with a 10 inch blanket of straw. Within a few hours, the water was receding from the basement.  068

286So far I have mitigated this problem and in the spring I will bury the pipe. But as I have stood and watched the water flowing from the pipe, ideas began to form in my head. Maybe I can redirect this water to something useful? Why not build a small pond? Why not build something where I can divert the water to the gardens? Or possibly have an underground cistern. There are many possibilities here. As long as we don’t have a drought, any one of these ideas would work. So instead of only collecting rain in barrels, I would have another source of water. I know there’s a lot of lime in the water, so I will test it to see what it is in its chemical makeup. The land slopes down away from the house so this would work in redirecting the water to a pond.

There are other problems I’m experiencing with the house and hopefully my creative mind will come up with new ideas to work with the house instead of against it! I have plans to transform this property into a beautiful oasis of edible plants, herbs, shrubs and wandering garden paths. I have an 11 month old granddaughter and my gardens are something I hope she finds exciting, interesting and full of adventures! My daughter has inherited my gardening prowess, which comes from many generations before us, so I hope my granddaughter does as well.

I may never find a mate, but as long as I can see the bright side of problems that surface, and creatively find solutions, and spend time in my gardens, I’m happier than pigs in muck. And come on Spring! I need to get that motorcycle back out on the road!

Where to begin?

Back of the house“No, this is not the beginning of a new chapter in my life; this is the beginning of a new book! That first book is already closed, ended, and tossed into the seas; this new book is newly opened, has just begun! Look, it is the first page! And it is a beautiful one!”  ― C. JoyBell C.

…and this is how it feels to me!   I’ve finally closed on the house and now I’m unpacking and trying to get settled.  The critters are finally more relaxed.  Oh, and so am I!  My poor pets!  The dogs and cat don’t understand what’s been happening since April of this year.  I drove them across country, we moved into this cabin on the creek and three months later, I pack them up and move them again 12 miles east.  This time it is for…a while…a long while!  My first few months back east have been hectic and so many changes happening; seeing family, old friends, waiting to start the new job, meeting new people and going through the home buying process.  Again!rain gutter

At first I was under contract to buy the cabin on the creek, basically sight unseen while living in Colorado.  And something that most of us don’t get to do, I was able to “try before I bought.”  In a sense.  It wasn’t the house for me.  This house was just a bit far out and over a small mountain.  It felt like I spent so much time on the road.  I’m still spending more time on the road compared to living in Centennial, Colorado, but now I have cut that back some.  So the cabin didn’t work out because the appraisal came in very low.  It was a good place to be for the past three months.  It allowed me to see, that at my current age and singleness, that 2.25 acres was more work than I truly wanted.  The cabin needs a lot of work and it’s just not in me to take on a project like this anymore.  The new job was 20 “country” miles to the east and seemed like I was always on the road, as I mentioned earlier.  Several acres, a cabin, a creek:  something I have wanted so many years ago.

So I began searching for another house; another place for me to begin anew.  And I found the house outside Inwood, West Virginia.  Inwood is about 10 miles south of Martinsburg, WV; 15 miles north of Winchester, VA and not that far from the Maryland state line.   And after three months here, I have found the farmer’s markets, places to shop, pick-your-own farms and some decent restaurants.  The house I now occupy sits on .56 of an acre, flat and pretty much void of trees, shrubs and flowers.  The back property line has a nice border of trees and shrubs and I will keep it this way.  There are two neglected apple trees at the back of the property along with a tall locust that has grown nearly on top of them.  The house has southern exposure across the front (yes!  passive solar in the winter!); the west side bordered by very tall Leland Cypress (another plus!  a windbreak!) as is most of the north to northwest side of the lot.  The neighbors are friendly and nice.   The neighborhood is dark at night and you can see the constellations and shooting stars!Composting Inwood

This has been the first year in a long time that I haven’t had some type of garden growing, some new method of gardening that I was experimenting with or getting my hands dirty working the soil.  And now we are in the midst of August, summer fading and autumn around the corner.  I did begin a compost pile and I’m testing out a new “backyard” composter that I found online.  The “SoilSaver Backyard Composter.”  And uh, no, I didn’t pay that for the bin, so do your research.  It’s pretty durable and has a locking lid.  This is an ideal compost bin for the small backyard composter.  Since the BioStack is no longer made (though it seems someone knows how to get them!), this is probably the next best thing to a recycled plastic compost bin.  It’s sturdy and durable.  When things are more settled and the garage cleaned, I will build a three-bin system with 2×4’s and hardware cloth or one of pallets.  The rain barrel will have to wait until spring, but I do have one downspout that actually drains into the ground and out to the middle of the back yard.  Interesting.

neglected appleOn Saturday I met James Remuzzi of SustainableSolutions.  He and his team were at the Morgan’s Grove Market in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  Check out his company!  From him I purchased two American Hazelnut, a Redosier Dogwood, two Common Elderberry “shrublings” and a Cranberry Vibirnum.   These plants join a butterfly bush, three butterfly weeds, one lavender plant and three blue sage, along with a Northstar Cherry that was a gift from my sister.  All need to be planted soon and hard rocky clay soil awaits!  But I see a nice hedgerow in the making!new shrubs

I am now in the planning phases, surveying the lot and dreaming of what I will plant and where.  The first order of business is working on the soil and building several raised beds for  fall and early winter planting in cold frames.  I’m definitely going to need a greenhouse out back, along with a wildflower garden, and a place to sit and reflect.  Maybe a hammock?

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Romancing the Home.

img_0360.jpgSix months into 2013 and my gardening and growing season have not even begun.  I surely thought I would begin something by now. But the process of buying the house that I am currently renting is coming to an end.  The appraisal came in very low and dealing with flood insurance quotes gave me the opportunity of finding something else and to own up to some true feelings about this house. I don’t want to live here.  While renting the home and living in it for nearly two months, I was able to get a good feel for what each day would need in commuting and living.  After beginning my new job and traveling 20 miles back and forth over the mountain and down a mile-long dirt road to and from home, I realized this isn’t working for me.  The property and house need more work than I am willing to expend, and at this point in my life, I want more free time for me and less time on home improvement or grass cutting!  The quality of my life is very important. I no longer want to spend the majority of my time fixing, repairing, cleaning or driving.  Yeah, housework, definitely overrated! I like working hard, but at the chores that I choose and not exhaust myself on repairing or replacing something in the house every weekend.  I also don’t want to spend hours cutting two acres of grass.  While I have wonderful ideas of changing over from grass to gardens, I did not begin that here and rightly so. It isn’t where I want to be.

pc_calendar_13I had so many plans and ideas and new things to attempt.  I was excited and couldn’t wait to get them started on this piece of property.  My friends and family were excited as well!  But after living here and settling into a regular routine, I realized this just isn’t the home of my dreams.  The property has a lot of peacefulness and solitude and it is a wonderful place to reflect and relax.  It’s a great get-away home!  The house is unique and fits my style of living, but the work needed to fix up the house and the maintenance of the yard is more than I am willing to give.  The commute over the mountain and into the valley, while beautiful, has already caused me to dread the drive.  While the deer are everywhere in the mid-Atlantic area, I have had two encounters so far, with one colliding into the side of my car.  And now, my job is requiring extra time when we kick off a project which will make the commute more painful during early mornings and late nights.

There were dreams of cherry and peach trees, chickens and goats, and a large tiered garden laid out on the sloping hillside next to the house. I loved that my dogs would romp across the property chasing sticks and did not have to be tethered to their leads. My sister had sent me a North star cherry tree to plant that arrived several weeks before leaving Colorado and I was going to plant it on this property.  So far, I could not find the right spot for the tree, and I placed it into a large planter on the deck.  I had purchased seeds to begin planting some native wildflower beds, but never begun that process.  The only thing I managed to do was plant eight different herbs in two window boxes attached to the house.  And thus that is the only time I’ve spent working in soil this year. wildflowers front

It feels odd not working the soil and planting something.  Anything!  Or weeding!  The magazines and articles have piled up in stacks near the kitchen.  The thought was there but never an attempt.  Almost like I knew this is not truly the place of my dreams after all.  Not many of us get the chance to try a home before one buy’s, but this was a good exercise for me.  And I know I romanticized a lot about living here, too.  I tend to do that–romancing the home. Thoughts of wood stoves and snowy days, cup of hot cocoa and wrapped in my mother’s afghan with the cat and dogs curled up on the floor and in my lap–yeah!

These magic moments will happen, just not here. And I’m happy about admitting my true feelings and coming to terms with them. So now begins the hunt for another home and one I hope to find closer to where I am working.  To be honest, I prefer to live near Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  It’s always felt like my type of place, with little cafes and shops and myriad types of people.  Maryland is just over the creek and friends and family not too far away.  I’ve always liked the town and took classes at Shepherd University 11 years ago.  Once settled, I plan to look into starting up new classes and might take up art and literature, and pick up where I left off earlier.

SeedPackets05I realized over the past two months that I had a lot of changes that I was maneuvering through.  Some of those had to do with finding the right farms that raised food in the way that I support as well as local co-ops and grocery stores.  My carbon footprint increased exponentially after moving here because the types of places I frequent are at least an hour’s drive.  Even the local farmers markets were a 30 minute drive away up winding two-lane roads.

I am looking forward to finding something else and reducing the driving time. Then I’ll be able to start planning that garden and orchard. I probably won’t have chickens and goats, but there are many around here that do and I’m sure I will find the products or items I need once I get settled.  And I’ve changed up the list of preferences for the next property.  I’ve decided I don’t need two or more acres unless half is wooded and the house is in reasonable condition so that my time is not wrapped around home repair.  Creeks are not necessary especially if the property is in Flood Zone A!  The house can be old or new, as long as it does not again need a lot of work to make it habitable. Maybe I will have something in mid or late July and can actually begin that fall garden and start building the soil.  In September I will begin planting trees and the one North star cherry will become the start to my “holistic” orchard.

Yeah, it’s all good.  I may romanticize and become giddy and jump in feet first sometimes, but is that necessarily a bad thing?  No.  And I will find my place and I will make it a warm, inviting and comfortable place to dream.


New Beginnings

Well, I’m here–in this spot–in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. 949 puffenI arrived on the 8th of May and moved into the cabin on the creek on the 9th. Because I am currently renting while going through the mortgage process, I have not built any gardens, vegetable or fruit, nor planted any wildflower meadows or begun the orchard. I also haven’t started the chickens or goats. I want to make sure the property appraises and the flood insurance isn’t out of this world and then I can begin. If all goes well, and I’m feeling pretty positive it will, then I might be able to have a fall garden.  I did plant about eight different herbs in two window boxes.

The property is about 2.24 acres with a three-story A-frame cabin that is about 941 sq. ft. This is a big change from a 2200 sq. ft. house (of which part of that was an unfinished basement). No longer am I living in the suburbs of the south metro area of Denver. I’m back on the East Coast, living in West Virginia.  I grew up in Maryland and have lived in West Virginia for two other short periods of time as an adult.  After ten years in Colorado and learning how to adapt to shorter growing seasons and very dry and arid conditions, I find myself having to readjust to the heat, humidity, snakes, critters and stink bugs.

Mind you, I am not snake phobic, but within the first two weeks I have had three snake encounters.  All black rat snakes.  Two juveniles and one very long adult!   The black rat snake is a good snake to have around. From what I have read and been told, they keep the Copperheads away and the rodent population down.  It’s just when you come home and find one INSIDE the house that kind of gives my heart a jolt.  Luckily, it was a juvenile and the day was very rainy.  So, my thinking tells me he came in to get out of the rain and was not just leaving!snake

Along with that, Woody, whom I’ve introduced you to in earlier blogs, has kept the field mouse population down in the house. They’re between the two fireplaces. At night, he sits on the fireplace ledge waiting patiently, like only a cat can. After tucking myself into bed and all is quiet, there will soon be a crash-bang-boom that lasts several seconds. It sounds as though the bookcase has toppled over onto the floor. But no, it’s only Woody, who now has a semi-delirious semi-dead mouse and playing juggling games. Cats and torture! Ah, but then he tires of the game because the mouse has died and leaves it for me right in the middle of my path to the bathroom. He eventually shows up on the bed and snuggles down behind my knees and begins his songs of contentment. I look over at him as he gives me a look that says “I killed him for you!”

It’s a good thing that I am renting. It gives me a chance to check things out and make sure it’s the right place. To be honest, I have gone back and forth, thumbs up, thumbs down. Am I too far out? Does the house need too much work? How am I going to manage all this?  The property borders Back Creek.  And the property is in the  hundred year flood plain.  Several times since I have been here, after heavy rains, the creek is high.  But so far, the creek has not flowed over its banks, much.


And it’s quiet and peaceful here. When I wake up in the morning, my two dogs and I wander down to the creek as the sun is rising, listening to the different sounds of wildlife.  When I return in the evenings after work, and the dogs and I play catch and run around the property, and sit by the creek listening to the sounds of the evening, I know I am home.


It’s been a month since I’ve been in the house. I’ve had to find the farmer’s markets, the co-op grocery stores, health-food stores, chiropractic doctors, naturopathic doctors, and cross-fit gyms. I am about 15 miles out of town and am learning how to plan my trips to best utilize my time and gas and keep my carbon footprint down.

farmers marketIn the past few weeks, I’ve found a Farmer’s Market in Berkeley Springs that’s held on Sundays and located others throughout the area.  Tomorrow I am heading to Charles Town, WV for their market. I became an “owner” of a co-op in Frederick, Maryland at The Common Market store, which is a drive of 50 miles from home. I purchase beef and chicken from Back Creek Bend Farm, which raises grass-fed beef and pastured chickens. I found a new naturopathic doctor and we meet at the end of the month.  The only need I have is for a chiropractic doctor that specializes in network spinal analysis therapy.  So far, not one in the immediate area.  At another market I met a young lady specializing in cranio-sacral massage therapy and will have my first appointment in the near future.  My drive to and from work, while having to pay attention to deer, is very relaxing and always moving with maybe one or two other cars on the road.  And I have had my first encounter with a doe who collided into the side of my car on Saturday. ???????????????????????????????

What I miss the most is working the soil, planting seeds and watching them grow!   I can’t wait to get started on a hillside garden, a new orchard and begin a chapter in raising chickens and goats.  So many things I want to get started.  It’s going to happen and I just need to breathe and let it flow.  If I don’t get a garden in this season, it’s okay, I’ll purchase from the local farmer’s markets.  And hopefully soon, I will begin a the process of raising a small flock of chickens and ducks.  By the way, one of my neighbor’s had three roaming New Hampshire reds that I have not seen in the past week.  Hmm, I wonder what happened to them?neighbors chickens

Stink Bug Phobia

They’re on to me! Those blasted bugs! — the Halyomorpha halys also known as the brown marmorated stink bug! Ever since I’ve returned to the mid-Atlantic area in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, I have had to re-acclimate to a myriad of insects again. And the stink bug, not the one I remember from my youth that we would find on the side of a tree occasionally, has changed my position from mistress of the manor to that of crazed woman with a vacuum cleaner!stink bug

Sure I live near a creek, in the woods, in orchard country, where these buggers thrive. They were definitely not in Colorado! I had heard the tales from friends and family over the past three to four years and thought I would never have to deal with them! That is, until I decided to move back home last month!

These stinkers have no native predator in the US which has befuddled many on how to eradicate. Evidently, they hitched a ride in shipping crates from Asia and were first spotted and identified around 1998 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. They devastate fruit and vegetable gardens. Now they are residing in at least 38 states in the contiguous US. Maybe they’ll never make Colorado unless they become acclimated to less oxygen. But then, who knows, maybe they’ll become members in the noble 14’ers club.

Yes, there are native North American varieties from the Pentatomidae family, but these have natural predators and aren’t a nuisance or pain in the ass. And you don’t typically see a grown woman wandering around the house in the evening with vacuum in tow sucking up those bastards before settling down for the night.

I live in a 3-story A-frame and begin the evening’s stink bug massacre on the bottom level which contain the kitchen and dining room and computer, my trusty vacuum cleaner by my side.  As soon as the stink bugs begin their assault (merely walking across the window or the ceiling) I snatch them up!  Then I wander upstairs to eradicate those I can find in the bathroom and in any proximity to my bedroom! Bugs be damned, you aren’t sharing my sleeping space!!! (Yes, I know – little DO I know!)

In the middle of typing a sentence, I look up and gaze out the window, watching a Cardinal preening on a branch across the yard only to have the view interrupted by one of those ugly little suckers crawling across the glass! I’m sure my dogs and cat think I’ve absolutely lost it! They don’t appreciate the irritating noise and amplified sound of the vacuum cleaner being turned on and off repeatedly. These little shites also sound like rocks when snatched by “the stink bug eradicator!”

While I believe all of us have a place in the natural order and I don’t prefer to kill bugs, I can’t allow the brown marmorated to live and breed and turn me into an entomophobic lunatic (too late?).

And they are on to me!!! They’re spreading the word about the lunatic with the long gray serpent-like creature that roars and eats stink bugs! Last night there were several on the bathroom curtain, and with my trusty gray stink bug zapper, I took aim and missed several times, nearly pulling the entire sheer panel down the tube. I captured one – SLOOP! The other, sitting precariously on top of the curtain rod, dared me to come and get him! As the vacuum tube neared, he disappeared behind the rod. As I retreated, he reappeared, daring me again! We repeated this scenario several times before I adjusted my aim and snatched him up as well! Though they outnumber me and I am not going to win this contest, it does give me small comfort to remove them from my personal space before retiring.

Yep, I can’t help but laugh at myself here. It’s not as bad and I’m not as agitated by them as I was three weeks ago when first moving into the house but that may change come Autumn. I’ve heard the stories! I’m thinking shop vac!

Cha Cha Cha Changes?

Many changes are happening within my life right now.  Though they are recent, there has been much thought and planning involved. Sometimes I wonder, is it really “change” or am I just moving into a new direction?  Is moving into a new direction really change?  Yes, we are changing from this spot to that, true.  But is it the same path we began once upon a time?  One that has had many forks and branches?  The path I am on is very familiar, yet different. When I think back to my late teen years, what I wanted to do with my life then, and without having much life experience, it isn’t that much different. But life has a way of guiding you down different paths and then on to other forks in the road. You take one or the other, not all of them having a great outcome, yet something we learn from. So, is it really change? I am, I feel, the same person I always thought I was. I feel I have the same morals, similar viewpoints, same “I want to make the world a better place” attitude. Yes, with these experiences I have honed who I am today. It’s because of the past 57 years of life experiences, both trials and tribulations, which have now defined me. Defined me as someone I am finally happy with, satisfied with for now. For you see, I am constantly changing and hope to do so until I can change no more.thoreau


In the early 70’s I fell in love with Thoreau and I wanted to live simply. I wanted to become self-sustaining, live off the land and grow flowers everywhere! In 1972, I left home at 16 in June on the last day of 11th grade. My grades sucked, I felt my life sucked and I needed to get out and venture on my own. So completely confused and lost was I during those years. A friend and I hitchhiked to Western New York where she had a sister. We wanted to go to San Francisco and see what was going on then, but we turned around after a month and went back home. It did occur to me what I did to my parents and family and I felt bad for that, but it was something within me that said I needed to take this path. My paths were filled with many trials and the tribulations were surviving them and making sure I didn’t go through them again!  Unless of course, I traveled them again with new insight and purpose.  Sometimes we think we’re more mature and experienced than we truly are.  And sometimes we don’t trust ourselves because we don’t realize we are smarter than we think.  Being an Army BRAT, I had already experienced moving several times during my young life. First, born in Germany, then several bases in the states, living with my maternal grandparents between them on a farm in Maryland, and then in 1970 we moved to Izmir, Turkey. Maybe this is why I always thought I had a lot of experience and knew more than I did. Maybe this is why the grass rarely grows under my feet. Well actually, my motto is “Kill the grass, grow food,” but we’ll get into that in another blog.

Along with reading a lot of Thoreau and my mother always quoting him in reference to me saying perhaps “you follow the beat of a different drummer…” the music of the day spoke to me in ways that have left strong feelings. With all the events going on in the world today with wars, killings, GMOs, pesticides, dying bee populations, the rich getting richer and the rest becoming more poor, with many unhealthy and many more going hungry, it reminds me of a song by Alvin Lee of Ten Years After. Something I resonated with deeply back then, and still do. I have come to question whether anything changes at all or are we just going around in circles, and playing nothing more than musical chairs, because this song could have been written today.

I’d Love to Change the WorldLEE-obit-articleInline

Everywhere is freaks and hairies,

Dykes and fairies, tell me where is sanity.

Tax the rich, feed the poor

Till there are no rich no more.

I’d love to change the world

But I don’t know what to do

So I’ll leave it up to you

Population keeps on breeding

Nation bleeding, still more feeding economy

Life is funny, skies are sunny

Bees make honey, who needs money, Monopoly

I’d love to change the world

But I don’t know what to do

So I’ll leave it up to you

World pollution, there’s no solution

Institution, electrocution

Just black and white, rich or poor

Them and us, stop the war

I’d love to change the world

But I don’t know what to do

So I’ll leave it up to you.

I still believe we can change the world and change it for the better, even though it seems to be a daunting task. Maybe to make significant changes means a lot of small changes that we all do collectively.

For several years I have had thoughts about quitting my job, moving closer to family and friends and find a couple of acres so I can build a small farmette. The same thing I wanted to do at 17, 27, 37, 47 and now 57. Problem was I never could find the “right” time to do it. The other problem was letting others’ comments sway me. Comments like “you can’t just quit a job until you have another first!” “Why not settle down somewhere and stay?” Those were just excuses I used because I wasn’t completely sure of making changes in the first place.  I was feeling safe where I was at and comfortable. And yes, there was the bad economy, high unemployment and the messages of fear broadcasting from corporate media. But I eventually shook that off because I do know who I am, my strengths and weaknesses and with much more clarity and purpose than when I was 17 and even 47.   I believe we tend to become too comfortable and that leads me to complacency and apathy.fork-in-the-road2

A few months ago, after a trip to Germany, I felt in my heart that it was time to do something different; to start doing those things I had been planning for most of my life. Over the years I have been honing my gardening practices and making many changes. I’ve been around growing food and gardening for most of my life in one way or another, having many family “mentors” before me. In 2012 I took classes with Denver Urban Gardens and became a “master” composter. For most of the summer weekends this past year, I was found at different local Farmer’s markets in a booth filled with flyers about composting, edible lawns, recycling and helping to save the planet. At 17, the road ahead of me was a hazy, unclear, and foggy road, one which I felt had meaning and purpose, but didn’t quite know how to go about it. And yes, people made similar comments then as well. It’s hard when you’re 17 and facing an uncertain future, unsure of what you want to do with your life. It wasn’t easy figuring out which fork in the road to take. While none where wrong, it just took more time to reach this recent fork.  fork-in-the-road_300

On Tuesday, I submitted my resignation effective April 30.  I am packing it in, having recently sold my house here in Colorado, and I’m heading back to the mid-Atlantic area.  I’ve sold, donated or given away most of my furniture and things not needed.  I’m packing up my two German Shepherds, one black cat, my Harley and we’re leaving Colorado on May 6.  I’m going to settle near one of my sisters in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.  I have lived there briefly before in 1985-86 and 2001-2003, but you would call Maryland my home state.  Nearly 10 years after leaving, I’m coming back.  And never has a move felt so right, so purposeful.  Things are falling into place.  I don’t have a job, yet.  But I do have a place I’m moving into with 3 acres and a stream and an A-Frame cabin, with lots of trees and shrubbery and places to plant and grow.   And I can move in as soon as I arrive in early May, before I find work.  Then once I have secured employment, I’ll be finishing up the process of buying the property.  It’s on a 100-year flood plain too, with so many new challenges to confront.  I have found a local Permaculture group and will get involved, hoping to restart the Permaculture Design course.  I have missed my parents and the rest of my family and all the friends there.  It’s been a good run here in Colorado and I wasn’t sure if this was a wasted tour or not until I sat down and reflected upon it.  While here, I have continually learned something new, something different, all building upon the past and creating this new journey, down a somewhat familiar road.  And it appears it is coming together more and more.  I want to grow food for my own health and sustainability, and help others to do the same.  I’d love to grow food for local restaurants.  And I want to share what I can with those who don’t have access to good food.949 puffen

Sometimes when so many good things are happening, I tend to question the why and wonder when the other shoe’s going to drop.  But what I have come to realize is, there is no other shoe.  This is what I have dreamed about since I can remember and something I’ve been building and working for most of my life.  Our lives are full of many paths with many forks and some of us walk many, while others may not walk enough.  Personally, I have walked many and I hope to continue doing so.  This may not be the last place I live during my life, but this one is filled with more clarity and perspective.


The Times They are A-Changing!

change next exit I haven’t written a blog for several months because I have been in deep thought.  My mind is filled with questions, thoughts, dreams, desires and yes fears and doubts.  So this blog is just a teaser for now because I am not ready yet in the “writing department” to pen it to paper or blog.  Sometime in 2013, there will be change, good change, scary change, those uncomfortable changes.  Changes that many don’t entertain.  Sometimes we become too comfortable and now is the time for some uncomfortable-ness!  I can’t say much about it now, but will be blogging about the process soon.  I hope you come back every so often and read about it once I begin the process.  I am keeping notes so I don’t miss some details but will not be online for a while.  I hope to inspire and spark others for change.  I strongly believe we can’t change the world until we change ourselves.  For inspiration, I’m sharing several quotes about change:fish change

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

― Leo Tolstoy

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

― Lao Tzu

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”change in the world

― Andy WarholThe Philosophy of Andy Warhol

“We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.”
― Katharine HepburnMe: Stories of My Life

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.”
― Paulo CoelhoThe Devil and Miss Prym

“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche

adapt changeI’ll be back soon!

They’re Here! They’re Here!

Yes, the seed catalogs are arriving daily!  My o’ my!  I love them like pie!  Seeds of Change and Johnny’s Selected Seeds of Maine are the first to arrive.  Can’t wait to get started on the garden planning for 2013!  What will I plant, what new vegetables do I want to try!  Oh the brilliant colorful examples of all things you can grow!  Fruits, vegetables and flowers.  And don’t forget the tools!  Just those neat “I wish I had” gadgets to make the garden toiling that much easier and fun!  This is just a short blog to share my giddiness of seeing the seed catalogs in the post box.

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” ― Robert Louis Stevenson

Steaming Piles

What is it about compost that fascinates me? I thought about this today as I was tending to three piles. Every week or ten days I turn over the piles to mix, aerate, and check the moisture level. As I begin to break the pile open, I just stand there in awe and watch the steam rise up and feel the heat emanate off the pile. There are so many processes happening in a compost pile that it’s fascinating to me to see the change each week. So many micro- and macro-organisms at work here!  I suppose I could just toss things into a pile and let it do what it does on its own and eventually it will decompose.  The key word here is “eventually.” As I’ve written in other blogs I prefer to work the piles. I started three new piles last weekend and tore them apart today, one by one, to mix in new matter, water, turn and cover. The first pile did not have as much volume as I thought when I built it so it was not heating up well. This pile did melt some of the snow on top but today I noticed worms and this pile is not even close to allowing worms to move in yet. But there was old soil on the bottom and that’s where they were wiggling around. They’ll leave when this pile starts heating up and move further down into the soil where they will wait until the pile is ready for their ascension.

The second pile is what you would call a steaming pile of compost!  As soon as I moved just a fork-full you could see the white and grayish moldiness of the matter and steam just poured out of the center of the pile. This pile also dropped about 4-5 inches in depth since last week. I added new matter, turned, watered and covered. Now I have two cubic yard piles in my homemade pallet compost bins. The third pile stands closer to the house. I use this pile when I take out food scraps at night or on cold days and mix up with the leaf and other carbonaceous materials.  It is closer to the house and I can run out and run back. The third pile is in a black recycled compost bin. It is not a cubic yard, but close enough to give it some volume when it’s filled. I pull this one up and off the ground and move it right next to the current spot and fork all the matter back into the bin. This one takes no time in aerating and mixing in new matter. This bin use to sit in the garden and I tended to toss in more nitrogenous materials (mostly food waste) and the mice would visit. It tended to be a stinking pile of mess, too. My cat was often found in the winter time sitting on top of the bin waiting for the little critters to pop out and soak in some rays.

After taking the Denver Master Composter classes earlier this year, I learned a lot more about why some of the compost piles I built were still showing leaves and other matter which had sat in a chicken-wire bin for 7 years and seemed like nothing changed. Yes, there was some good compost on the bottom and the leaves had matted down, but I never did anything with it and left Mother Nature in charge. The Mother will always take care of these things, but she can’t do much for a bin of leaves that weren’t crushed or trampled on, and left to sit behind a shed forgotten. And the same goes for grass clippings too. If you just pile up a bunch of grass clippings, they will begin to smell like ammonia and begin decomposition, but not as fast and it will just sit there taking its sweet time. Mixing crushed leaves and grass clippings are two of the best ingredients for a beginner to use in starting a compost pile. Mix about two to three parts leaves to one part grass clippings and build that up into a three-foot by three-foot cube. Make sure there’s enough water so it feels like a wrung-out sponge and cover it with black plastic or in a bin with a lid. You will begin to see decomposition happen before your eyes. Go out and check this in a couple of days and see! Check to see where the height of the pile now rests. Has it shrunken down some? Now start adding a mixture of crushed leaves and kitchen waste. Use the same ratio of 2:1 when adding new layers to the current pile. Mix more leaves with the food waste and turn into the pile. Again, make sure it’s moist too.

One of the many questions asked during compost outreach was when do you stop adding to the current pile? That’s a tough one sometimes and I’m not sure I always know. What I tend to do personally is build the pile so it is at least 3 cubic feet and no more than 5 cubic feet in size at the start. Any more than this and it will be too much to turn regularly. I may mix in more greens and browns, but I wait until I’m going to turn the pile for aeration and checking moisture. After pulling the pile apart, and turning the bottom up and the outside in, I will add more layers in the center, make sure it’s moist and finish it up. If you don’t have a pile that’s at least 3 cubic feet, it probably won’t heat up much because it truly does need some volume. If you do not have enough to start a pile, start collecting leaves in your yard or from neighbors. Crush them up with the lawnmower and set aside somewhere in your yard. You can also freeze food waste as well and wait. Or if you start the pile small, just keep adding layers and mixing. Eventually, you will have enough to get one going.

The two piles in the back will eventually be mixed together when they have reduced about half and then I will begin another pile in the empty spot. I have several piles of compost decomposing in various stages throughout the year. We’re moving closer to winter, and I will still have steaming piles through the season. Composting slows down in the cold but if properly covered against the wind, even by using plywood boards around the pile or bales of straw, it will heat up throughout the winter and you’ll have compost in the spring.

There’s a lot more to composting than what’s written in this blog and these are processes that I use and that work for me. I’ve learned a lot this year by becoming a Denver Composter and working the Farmer’s Markets and there’s a lot more to learn as well. One of these days I will begin vermicomposting and I’ll write about that when I begin the project!

Check out the steaming pile video and Happy Composting!

Gardening in the Dark

“That night was the turning-point in the season. We had gone to bed in summer, and we awoke in autumn; for summer passes into autumn in some imaginable point of time, like the turning of a leaf.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

I love the seasons.  Each one is a gift in its own right.  To live in a part of the country where you can experience all four of the seasons with its unique activities and contributions is a gift.  Autumn is always my favorite and then spring, winter and summer.  Or is it spring, autumn, winter and summer?  Anyway, I love them all.  Most people it seems don’t like it when daylight savings time ends, but I do.  To me it has its place and I can be found in the dark working on something while holding a flashlight.  I will admit that during the first couple of weeks of standard time I feel like I’m supposed to go into hibernation.  It’s easy to shuck work and head to the sofa with a glass of wine and watch Danish crime thrillers on Netflix.  And yes I watch them with English subtitles, but I can detect a bit of the German dialect in some of the words too.

Different types of weather don’t stop me from working in the garden and neither does the dark.  The weather last weekend was a mix of freezing rain, sleet and snow and I was out early trying to get a number of chores done that just had to be finished.  The temperature at 7 a.m. that day was the warmest it would be for the next three.  Before the light rain started I managed to move about 17 bags of leaves from the side of the house to the backyard, toss them wherever the dogs run, and get three compost piles going.  There I was turning, watering and building compost piles while light sleet had begun.

This autumn I collected over 40 bags of leaves from coworkers.  They brought them into the office or dropped them off at my house.  I also raked up leaves for a neighbor down the street and brought home one tarp full and four separate trips with a stuffed 96-gallon trash bin.  All those leaves came from one tree in her yard.   Her roommate did rake up part of them and left them piled in the street and last Friday evening I wandered down and brought the rest home.  There I was standing in the glow of the street light shoveling leaves into the bin.  The winds picked up on the second trip and it seemed they were making their way up the street faster than I could get them home and with little effort from me.  A neighbor behind me has also saved his leaves and will toss another seven bags over the fence when he gets around to it.  I’ve collected the leaves for a number of projects:  mulching the garden and wildflower beds, sheet mulching new beds and composting.  It also keeps them out of the landfill and I am building better soil systems in my yard.  The rest are piled up in the corner for composting over the winter and into next year.   While others are busy raking and removing leaves, I’m taking them and dumping them all over my yard!

I checked the compost piles on Sunday after the thunder, freezing rain and snow storm the day before and the snow in the center of one had melted.  It’s cooking!   I love seeing the steam rise when you pitch your hay-fork down into the pile and turn it over.  Composting can be work or it can be just a matter of tossing things into a pile and letting it go.  It depends on how fast you want compost.   I prefer the work side of composting. I enjoy mixing the pile, watering, turning and watching it change its composition.  I want my compost to be ready by spring, so I will work it through the winter.  And for me, it’s garden therapy.  It takes my mind away from the crap of the day and lets me feel connected with the earth.  I love feeling that earth connection!

Last week, a good friend of mine who has horses gave me three 50-lb. bags of horse manure and collected two 50-lb. bags of alpaca poop from one of his neighbors.  On Saturday before the snow I spread one bag of alpaca poop throughout my wildflower beds, around the apple and cherry trees, the main garden and layered some over the cardboard for the second garlic box.  I had already layered shredded leaves in all these areas and after spreading the poop, I added more.

This week the temperatures were in the upper 50’s during the day.  So that meant it was still warm enough at night to complete some tasks in the garden before the ground totally hardened.  On Tuesday evening, I managed to twist in a new mailbox post (the Spin Digger) before a hard freeze and finally finished the second garlic bed.  I layered the cardboard with more leaves, horse manure and soil.  I then mixed up several more layers of this earth potion and then finished up the bed with several inches of top soil mixed with shredded leaves.  In the dark, I broke apart the garlic and planted about 14 rows of Silver Rose softneck.  I then mulched it with several more inches of leaves.  This is my version of sheet mulching.  Instant garden beds with not that much effort built in the dark with a flashlight dangling precariously between my neck and left shoulder.  I’ll remember this next June or July when I harvest the garlic too!  Good food should be a celebration of life and that which you grow yourself makes it much more special!

Sheet mulching was part of my first Permaculture class a couple of weeks ago (it was the second class weekend but I missed the first one in October).  While listening to the lectures and watching and participating with the sheet mulching demonstration, I realized I have done some sort of sheet mulching for several years now.  About 7 years ago, I covered up a huge bed in the backyard that was full of sand with newspaper and cardboard and mixed up soil and compost and planted wildflowers.  The soil in this bed is dark and loaded with worms now.  It’s been through several iterations where at one time I covered it completely with small river rock.  The golden yarrow has found its way through the rock and has filled out the bed almost completely.  There are other areas in my yard that I used newspaper and cardboard and mixed up soil on top too.  Sheet mulching that I learned in class began with building a new bed by outlining it with river rocks, then layering with manure, cardboard, a layer of straw and more manure, leaves, manure, more leaves, soil and compost.  We then planted spinach, hens and chicks and garlic and covered with a layer of straw.  Easy peasy jumping easy.

Tonight on the way home from work I stopped at REI and bought a headlamp.  When I told the store clerk what I needed it for she stood there staring at me for a few seconds without saying anything.  I wasn’t sure what might be going through her mind.  She was either thinking I am some sort of nut or maybe she was trying to figure out the proper headlamp for night gardening.  Anyway, she suggested the right one because I tested it out tonight and there’s a lot more I can get down in the evenings.  I’ll find some time to hibernate, I’m sure of it!

Bird 1, Cat 0

One night during February of 2006, I was watching television in the den. The room was dark except for the glow of the TV. At that time I had a German Shepherd named Abby and she was about 10 years old. While we were lying there in the dark, out of the corner of my eye I saw something scurry across the floor fast and disappear. I know you know what I mean. You don’t actually see it, but you know what it is! Damn it! That’s a mouse! So the next day I started researching animal adoption agencies to look for a cat. And I found him! His name was Woody, all black and six months old. Perfect! So I adopted him after spending an hour with him at the Dumb Friend’s League. They tried to get me to take another cat because Woody had some respiratory problems, but he was in the DFL and had been there for some time during his short life. He was named Woody by a woman who bought him from a breeder, took him home and then brought him to the DFL because her husband said “no.” Really? Well, whoever you are, he turned out to be the best cat anyone could ask for and the house mouse problem was solved.

This year I allowed him to roam the outside. I felt sorry for him sitting in the house and getting fat performing all the normal house cat activities: sleeping, playing, sleeping, eating and sleeping. Woody was outside during daylight hours only because early morning and dusk brings the coyotes and foxes around. We’ve lost several cats in the hood because they were out roaming after dark.

But unfortunately, Woody is a crafty and excellent killer. He is not interested in his prey for food because he probably prefers Fromm Family duck  a la veg or his canned varieties of which he receives a small spoon daily as a supplement. Plus the canned food is my tool for getting him back into the house–beating on the can will get his attention unless he has roamed more than a block away.

My front yard was transformed from mostly grass and a few perennials to less grass and many perennials, wildflowers and sunflowers. Also, my yard is considered a “certified wildlife habitat” by the National Wildlife Federation and their backyard wildlife habitat program. In order to receive a certificate, one must create an environment that encourages wildlife such as birds by including places to find food, shelter, water and places to raise their young. At the least, this is simply done by adding bird feeders and baths and having trees and shrubs in one’s yard. I sometimes use bird feeders but the squirrels wreak havoc with them. So I plant a lot of wildflowers and sunflowers which contain seeds that attract the birds. Birds, squirrels, rabbits, butterflies, hummingbirds, foxes and lots of honeybees visit my yard. Come autumn my yard may not look so inviting to the human, but the birds and squirrels are having a dickens of a time! In the front yard, there can be found 10 to 20 or more birds at any given time, enjoying the seed harvest! Sparrows, chickadees, finches and warblers.

And here lies the problem—the cat! I was thinking about this the other day, about how I am bringing the prey directly to him. I have found a number of dead birds in the backyard and each time I tell Woody he can no longer go outside! Then I relent because it means less “clean-up” with a litter box; unfortunately at the cost of a number of birds’ lives.  Also, my neighbors love him because he’s been keeping the mouse population down. They welcome him into their yards!

One morning I was standing in the front yard admiring the mixed colors of cosmos, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, native and giant sunflowers, Mexican hat, along with little blue flax and golden yarrow. All of a sudden I see a pair of black paws rising out of the flowers like a Phoenix! WOODY! There he was hidden among the flowers waiting for the warblers! Luckily, the warbler didn’t end up between those paws and was able to escape. I chased him out of the flowers and he took off over the neighbor’s fence and sat in the middle of his yard staring at me. I did eventually get him into the house and have not let him back out until recently.

We’ve had a good spell of snow and cold weather this week and I figured he wouldn’t roam very far and would just do his business and return. Seriously, I’m not an idiot and have kept tight reins on his outdoor activity. This morning I went outside to bring in more wood for the stove and here he comes running with a gray and white bird in his mouth. He’s running for the door hoping to get inside so he can torture the poor bird! I stop him with my foot and his jaw grips the bird tighter.  He eventually released the bird and it was able to fly off and into the lilac bush. Woody immediately ran over preparing for a leap into the bush but I was able to foil his advance and snatch him up fast! He’s in the house now bitching at me for taking away his fun and livelihood. He’s not interested in the statistics that show how many birds are killed by outdoor cats. He said “sorry, it’s in my DNA” and wanders over to the couch and curls up.

I love my gardens and all the wildlife that show up and I continually add more and more plants that attract them. Unfortunately for Woody he will now be a permanent indoor cat and will view the activities of Mother Nature from the inside windows!

Ewww, what’s that smell? Can’t you smell that smell?

For the past six days I have walked into the living room and caught a whiff of some smell. Something that I first thought might be cat or dog urine. I have two dogs and a cat and they typically do not have accidents in the house.  But the two dogs were in the kennel for two weeks and the cat was the only one home while I was out of the country. The dogs and I have only been home for a week now. Sometimes they are crated because they can get into mischief, but surely they didn’t do something here. So then I thought it must be the cat! Maybe he was pissed because we left him here alone? Maybe he marked a spot on purpose? Woody has never once done this in the house either. But maybe he was really pissed!

You might be thinking “what has this to do with gardening?” Well, I’ll get to that. I’ve wandered around the room sniffing this and that, looking around the floor, picking up the carpet and checking. Nothing! And then I don’t smell it again. Lying on the couch reading, two dogs on the floor, cat on the back of the couch, the smell wafts by again! What the hell is it? I look at all three of them, they look at me. Can’t find it and can’t figure it out. Vacuuming and washing the floor wasn’t the answer because the smell seemed to come and go.

On the 110-year old oak dining room table sit eight pumpkins, three spaghetti squash and three delicata squash. They have sat there for a month because they ripened early and I haven’t made the time to put them in the basement. I sniff around them, finding nothing. The smell seemed to disappear. Oh well, can’t find it and now it’s gone again.

Tonight after work, I start a fire in the wood stove, let the dogs and cat outside for a bit to romp in the snow (okay, Woody came back into the house!), and wandered into the living room to start up the computer. There it is again! What in the hell is it? I just can’t seem to find it. The dogs and cat follow me into the room. Okay, which one of you had an accident? They just look at me like I’m nuts. I start sniffing furniture, the floor, the oak chairs, everything. Then I sniff one of the pumpkins. Wait! Is that it? I sniff again. Nope. But there is a faint odor. So I sniff the stems and that’s not it either, but I do smell it again. Just a whiff.

I take a couple of the pumpkins and move them into the kitchen, sniffing each one. They smell like a pumpkin. Then I move the squash and sniffing each, but still nothing. Half of the pumpkins have been moved and there’s just four left on the table. As I walk in from the other end of the room, I looked at the rest of the pumpkins on the table. And then I notice something peculiar. One of the pumpkins looks like it has changed shape! I check it out and it’s the pumpkin that had a stem pop off a couple of weeks ago. Yep, it’s the culprit all right, the bottom half was a deflated mess of rotting pumpkin and on my 110-year old oak table! Plus some of it had leaked onto the seat of one of the chairs (through a crack).

I remembered when it happened and should have done something with that pumpkin immediately. I know that removing the pumpkin stem causes the pumpkin to go bad sooner than later, but the mystery is now solved.  The two dogs and the cat looked at me as if to say “See, it wasn’t us! You never believe us!” 

So, something to remember when growing pumpkins and storing, if the stem pops off bake that pumpkin or cut an early Jack-O-Lantern! This one is headed to the compost pile!

Wanted Dead or Alive: Leaves

Well, I’m back after nearly two weeks traveling around Germany via plane, train, auto, bicycle and foot!  From train windows I saw the backyards of many Germans and their gardens full of vegetables, flowers, chickens, goats, and solar panels.  In the cities, flowers and plants on balconies and window sills.  Loved it loved it loved it!  I needed this trip to recharge my soul!

Before I left I created a flyer asking for leaves and left it at a number of houses on my block.  Yes, those red, yellow and brown things that either fall all too quickly or take their time hitting the ground.  My request was for “clean” leaves, from non-sprayed trees and no recently sprayed “Round-Up” anywhere, also without trash and dog poop. I even mentioned I would rake the leaves as well (one time only and in the front). Also, I didn’t want their plastic bags and mentioned that we need to reduce our use. Obvious to the least attentive observer, I placed too many conditions on my request for leaves because I only heard from one neighbor. I am trying to collect as many leaves as I can.  The leaves are going to be used in composting, mulching and garden prep. There is just one tree in my yard that drops leaves—the crab apple. Then again, my neighbor’s leaves mostly fall into my yard and what is a typically opposite reaction of most, they are welcomed! I’m sure several of the neighbors must think I’m nuts. The grass in my front yard has disappeared more and more each year and replaced by wildflowers. Now that’s changing with designs for an edible front yard. This will appear in bits and pieces as one can only do so much at a time.

Before I left on a two-week holiday to Germany I left a sign in my front yard that said “Leaves can be dropped here.” It obviously didn’t raise anyone’s curiosity because there weren’t any extra leaves in my front yard when I returned, except for what the wind blew from other yards.  But I did have a voice mail message from a neighbor three houses down and I stopped by earlier this evening. She has back problems and is unable to rake them so I will stop by tomorrow night and begin the task.  I’ve also decided my offer is now off the table for anyone else.

I have two fruit trees I planted earlier this year that need mulching, the existing garden, three new raised garlic beds, the front yard wildflower beds and shrubs.  Plus, I need a stockpile for composting this winter and through next summer. Even though there are many items from our trash that can and should be composted, leaves by far in my opinion make some of the best “browns” in the compost salad. It seems we have enough food waste (your green salad ingredients) at any given time but not enough browns or carbonaceous materials. Plus leaves are easier than shredding paper and cutting up cardboard for the pile. I do use a number of things from the trash for the compost pile, but I still like a lot of leaves!  I use cardboard for building new garden beds by layering the cardboard on the short-cut grass and placing raised boxes on top.  It’s easier than digging up the soil, and the cardboard will eventually decompose.

So after visiting the neighbor and scheduling some time to rake, I came up with another idea—ask my colleagues at work for their leaves! Off went an email and within five minutes I had several replies and then several more! Oh boy! And I say that with a little trepidation! Am I going to show up at work to a mountain of bagged leaves? Hopefully someone with a truck will help me get them home if that does actually happen! I also had to change my thinking and accept them in bags even though I am trying desperately to reduce my use of plastics! I know, I know, you wonder how I would get them home unbagged. Well, originally, I was just asking for neighbors’ leaves and they could rake them onto tarps or load in their 96-gal trash bins and just dump in my yard, but that didn’t work.  So I will accept the plastic bags and reuse them for something else.  What?  I don’t know yet.  It is very hard to remove plastics from your life!

I’m also going to bring home 3 more pallets from the office and build a third compost bin so I can have two good piles smoking and use the third to turn the other two.  There’s an area fenced in with chicken wire that will hold the stockpiled leaves!  Yep, right next to the area of the yard where I plan to raise chickens!  As the one neighbor said to me last night:  “I think you’re doing a great thing by collecting and reusing leaves and we don’t think you’re nuts!”  So there you go, hopefully a lot less leaves heading to the landfill and maybe next year my other neighbors will have changed their thinking and will build compost piles and use their own leaves. One can hope!

Hey!  Did you ever as a child collect leaves, iron them between wax paper and take them to school for show and tell?

This and That or Nothing at all!

I’ve tried to figure out why there are so many topics I want to write about but nothing is coming through to the fingers and the keyboard. It’s probably because I am getting close to my trip to Germany and the task list is long and time is growing short. Autumn is well underway and after staring at that Harvest moon for several nights in a row, I was probably hypnotized into letting things be. We should all do that sometimes and not chastise ourselves for minimal check marks on the list. 

I did start working on new garlic beds. I took up three of the raised beds and moved them to a new area. After cutting the grass in the new site, I layered cardboard on the ground and placed the frames upon them. It won’t matter if I finish this after my return because I can make a new soil mixture with the pile of dirt from the apple tree hole and mix with some leftover compost and leaf matter. I’m tripling the garlic plantings this year. My first season of garlic turned out better than I expected and I have ordered three ½ pounds of soft neck garlic. Three different varieties mind you. I harvested about 50 head of garlic last June and most of it was given away as gifts or I’ve used it already. I didn’t think about that when I planted them last October. Each time we plant something we learn something.

I believe most of us start cleaning up our yards and gardens, begin new compost piles, rake leaves and plant late fall crops and spring bulbs about now. But this year is different. I read a pretty good article the other day, the name and author which now escapes my memory, about leaving the garden alone until spring. By pulling up old plants and sprucing up the garden beds, we are actually doing more harm than good. We should leave the soil alone and let the old plants be.   Your garden soil will be grateful you did!  Spread about six inches of leaves over the garden and leave it alone. You can also plant cover crops. I did this for the first time last year in the garden. I planted a mix of field peas, common vetch, and winter rye—in the raised beds. I cut the winter crop back in the spring and hoed the rest of it under. I harvested some beautiful pumpkins this year along with beets the size I’ve never seen in my garden!  The squirrels were thrilled with those pumpkins too!  Sounds great for me and I can cut a few chores of the fall list.

I ordered ten 1-year old comfrey plants from Coe’s Comfrey out of North Carolina (thanks, Fruity!) and did manage to plant them around my new apple tree.  Coe seems like a very interesting fellow!  Now I need to place a deep layer of leaves under the tree, but I don’t have enough of my own even with what falls into my yard from my next-door neighbor. So I crafted a plan!

Tonight I walked around my neighborhood and left a flyer on several doorsteps. I want their leaves! Beginning any day now, one will find plastic bags filled with leaves dotted up and down the street. So I decided to make a flyer and ask if I could have them. They won’t do us any good being tossed in the landfill. And I need them for year-around composting and garden mulching. I let my neighbors know I will come and rake them one time only or they can dump them in my front yard. I also have conditions! No recently sprayed Round-Up or other pesticides and herbicides on the grass or area where the leaves have fallen, no dog or cat feces and I don’t want the plastic bags! I was also very selective with some neighbors because I have seen what they spray on their trees and grass and it doesn’t have a place in my yard or gardens. I’m hoping I can teach others the art of composting if they aren’t already doing so. And maybe I can help sway some of them to stop spraying chemicals throughout their yards. By the way, several times this year a plume of some awfully smelling, eye-reddening and throat-irritating shit made its way to my part of the neighborhood while I was working in the front yard. I had to leave the yard and head back into the house and I was not happy. What does it take sometimes?

And now with five days before I embark on my overseas journey, I’m not going to worry about what I complete or not! It will be here when I return and as usual I will improvise with something else to plant to start anew in the garden next spring. I don’t believe I’ll ever have an orderly and completed gardening “system” because as I’ve learned, it’s constantly evolving, just like we are!

Prost! und Auf Wiedersehen!

This Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree!

“By the middle of November the wild apples have lost some of their brilliancy, and have chiefly fallen…. But still, if you are a skilful gleaner, you may get many a pocket-full even of grafted fruit, long after apples are supposed to be gone out-of-doors. I know a Blue-Pearmain tree, growing within the edge of a swamp, almost as good as wild…. If I am sharp-set, for I do not refuse the Blue-Pearmain, I fill my pockets on each side; and as I retrace my steps in the frosty eve, being perhaps four or five miles from home, I eat one first from this side, and then from that, to keep my balance.” ~ Thoreau, “Wild Apples”

Apples. I love apples, but not the customary red apple that a young lad might give to his teacher. I love ones with crunch and a slight tartness. In my humble opinion, apples are one of Nature’s shining achievements. Most autumns when I was young we would drive north to Thurmont, Maryland and buy bushel baskets full of apples and bottles of cider. It would be sunny with the smell of burning leaves and woodstoves piercing the chilled air. Thurmont is known as the “Gateway to the Mountains” and is near the Pennsylvania state line and very close to Camp David. After living in Colorado for the last nine years, I can no longer call them “mountains.” Especially if you compare them to the view from my upstairs bedroom window, while standing on a box looking over to the right, through the neighbor’s trees—those are mountains! But nevertheless to an East Coaster they are indeed mountains. There are a number of apple orchards in Thurmont dotted throughout the surrounding countryside. And I so loved the drive there and back home again. I have a memory of Uncle Cecil driving us kids there in his red Chevy II convertible. Or was that to Sugarloaf Mountain? Maybe it was both!

My grandmother, when she was alive, would make pies and homemade applesauce, and so did my mother. I believe my mother still does whip up a bowl of homemade sauce today. I loved helping her make the sauce and couldn’t wait to steal a spoonful when she wasn’t looking. The smell of cooking apples wafting throughout the kitchen filled my senses with such awe! I can picture myself sitting at the kitchen table waiting for them to cook so I could roll the wooden mortar around the aluminum cone-shaped sieve that fit over a large bowl. The applesauce had a natural pink color and no extra sugar. Applesauce does not need added sugar if you use the right apples. When I pick up a jar at the store and scan the label, I find some with dyes and added sugar. That is such a violation of Nature! There is never any need to color or add sugar to applesauce, but with commercially grown apples, I guess you would have to add some taste!

So today, while working the Farmer’s Market at Stapleton, I picked up a box of seconds from Ela Family Farms out of Hotchkiss, Colorado. I didn’t have any intentions of buying more fruit or vegetables to put up for the winter, but as I walked past I saw their sign that noted “$20 a box for seconds, great for sauce!” Okay, okay, I bought them! You can’t beat a 20-25 pound box of apples for $20! And as usual, I needed to add another night or two of canning to my leisurely activities list.

After finishing up compost outreach and an afternoon siesta I ran out to buy one of those apple corer gadgets. And boy I am glad I did! What a breeze to core and slice the apples in just a matter of minutes! I only prepared half of the box and filled a large stainless-steel pot about three-quarters full. I added an inch of water from my Eldorado water cooler to the pot and the apples started cooking.

When the apples were soft I put them through the food mill using the largest blade. I like chunky and there are bits of peel in the sauce. If that bothers you, then I guess you won’t be receiving one from me at Christmas! I filled 11 pint jars with sauce and added Ceylon cinnamon to three of them. When I can the rest of the apples this week I will add Ceylon cinnamon to the entire pot and I might use the medium blade with the mill! I just like to shake things up a bit!

So another day of outreach at the Farmer’s Market, another purchase of fresh locally grown certified organic fruit and another night of canning. Thank goodness my canning season is coming to a close, because I’m moving onto backyard chickens after my return from Germany in late October! Yep, another leisurely activity!

Episode Two: Tomato Sauce, The Finale

Did you see Episode One earlier this week about the art of making tomato sauce and nearly setting the kitchen ablaze? Well, I thought I would finish the story with Episode Two. We all make mistakes; especially in gardening and canning and some times we will find an easier process or a new recipe from the outcome.  

The next morning after the mini-drama, I could still smell smoked olive oil and tomatoes throughout the house. My eyes were still red and burning and I did not have but two cocktails the night before. Honest! I removed the pan of sauce from the refrigerator and took a whiff! WOW! That smells wonderful! I spooned some into a small jar and brought it to work for others to sample. I wanted to enlist the culinary expertise from a few of my coworkers.  The aroma was well received.

That evening I came home and after the usual chores began working on the rest of the sauce. Well, I thought to myself, if the smoked sauce smells and tastes that good without the rest of the ingredients then it has to turn out wonderful. Right?

The olive oil (1-1/2 cups) went into the pot along with six cups of chopped onions and 18 minced cloves of garlic. The onions and garlic had to sauté and become transparent. Oh and not to worry, I didn’t turn on the oven nor did I open the door! There’s an upcoming cleaning project and I am going to wait until I’m back from my trip. 

Once the onions and garlic were transparent, six cups of dry white wine were added to the pot along with sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper. Twelve branches of basil were tossed into the pot of smoked tomatoes while preheating. When the wine mixture was reduced by half it was then time to mix both together.  This isn’t how it’s written in the recipe, but after the first night I had to improvise.   I actually had to get out a larger pot to mix otherwise we’d be slipping and sliding on red hardwood floors! Next, the basil was removed and the lemon juice added to the sauce.  Salt and pepper to taste.  During the sauce making canning jars were in the dishwasher, the lids were in a pot of boiling water and all tools were assembled.  The last stage was to cook the completed sauce for at least 20 minutes before ladling into hot jars. While stirring the sauce I kept thinking to myself that it seemed somewhat thin and oily.  Could the recipe be wrong?  I think there’s way too much olive oil in this recipe!  In the first blog I mentioned the list of ingredients at the end and you’ll note there are three cups of olive oil listed.

Once cooked I ladled the sauce into three 1-1/2 pint jars, four pint jars, three half-pint jars and the rest went into some bowls and placed in the fridge. The recipe noted that one should can about four quarts of sauce.  If you add up the total ounces above you’ll note that there is a bit more than four quarts! How the heck did that happen when I didn’t use 16 pounds of tomatoes as called for in the recipe? My guess is because of the food mill and which extracted every bit of tomato and juice that could be pressed from those smoked tomatoes along with pressing the bowl of tomato “guts.”  So I finished ladling into hot jars, cleaned the rims, added the lids and rings and placed into the canning pot. The jars went through a 55 minute boiling-water bath.  (Note:  An additional ten minutes OR more must be added if living in high altitudes.)

I removed the jars from the pot and placed on the counter to cool and seal. Only one jar did not seal properly and into the fridge it went. I tasted some of the leftovers and it just didn’t knock my socks off; not like it did in the first batch of smoked tomatoes, thyme, garlic and olive oil. I’m thinking to myself this recipe I made with the purchasing of the someone else’s tomatoes, two bottles of wine, thyme, basil and olive oil became an overpriced mediocre oily smoky tomato sauce!  Yes, they are a bit oily as one can see in the image below.

A friend at work mentioned he would take a jar and see what he could do with it. I’m just not that excited about it, but the sauce was made and put up for the winter and I will use them.  In something!  Each time I open a jar I will remember the event, the cost of making it and the things that I would do differently next year.  Yes, I will enjoy it , too, because this smoky sauce has become a new family memory!

And with that, here is my plan for next year:

16 pounds of meaty tomatoes – which will be grown in my garden with better early planning

36 twigs of fresh thyme leaves – also from my garden next year

18 cloves of garlic – also from my garden, as it was this year

6 branches of basil – also from my garden, this year’s crop went to seed too early

1-1/2 cups of extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons of fresh-squeezed lemon juice

I will split and scoop the tomatoes and place on roasting pans with at least a ½ inch to 1-inch lip. Then thyme and garlic sprinkled over the tomatoes and drizzled with the olive oil. Next they are roasted on the Weber grill in stages outside on the patio! When all the tomatoes are roasted they will be pressed through the food mill and added to the pot with the basil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Peaches, Peach Jam, Peach Jalapeno Jam, Peach Butter, Smoked Tomato Sauce

The first batch of roasted tomatoes from the make-believe 3-alarm fire were perfect and didn’t need anything else. I wish I felt like making a new batch of the Radical Gardener’s Smoked Tomato Sauce but I’m a bit smoked out and broke!

As an afterthought here’s a nice poem I found about September and canning:

Storing September

You ask me what I did today.
I could pretend and say,
“I don’t remember.”
But, no, I’ll tell you what I did today —
I stored September.
Sat in the sun and let the sun sink in,
Let all the warmth of it caress my skin.
When winter comes, my skin will still remember
The day I stored September.
And then my eyes —
I filled them with the deepest, bluest skies
And all the traceries of wasps and butterflies.
When winter comes, my eyes will still remember
The day they stored September.
And there was cricket song to fill my ears!
And the taste of grapes
And the deep purple of them!
And asters, like small clumps of sky…
You know how much I love them.
That’s what I did today
And I know why.
Just simply for the love of it,
I stored September.

~ Elizabeth Rooney

The Art of Making Tomato Sauce; or how not to burn down the kitchen!

Tonight started out like many of my nights lately; plans to work in the garden, cook and can. I found a simple sauce recipe that I’ve planned on making and I picked up about 13 pounds of local organic tomatoes on Sunday. I had three pounds on the window sill from my garden. The ones I bought were grown at Pomodore Farms in Littleton, Colorado. My own tomatoes are not ripening fast enough to have 16 pounds at one time so I purchased from someone else. Since I’ve had them for a couple of days, I decided I would make the sauce tonight and can about 8 pints of fresh sauce for winter. I’m sure I can get this done in a couple of hours!

Sometimes I should just come home from work and do absolutely nothing. Not think about nor head out to the garden; not even make sauce. Even if the tomatoes might go to waste. After blogging about food waste, that was the last thing I was going to let happen. So after work tonight, I stopped and picked up two bottles of white wine, thyme and a can of olive oil. Ingredients I needed to start the sauce. After arriving home, I did go out to the garden and cleaned up some areas to prepare for garlic planting next week. Then I cut off three more pumpkins before the squirrels destroyed them. Sometimes I imagine several squirrels getting together and hoisting up a pumpkin, carrying it up over the fence and into some hidden cache where one might find leftovers of a feast from my garden! I know there are vegetables missing, I just know it! There were four pumpkins there yesterday and last night I found one completely gutted. Well, at least they seem to enjoy them. Next year, Mr. McGregor’s electric fence!!!

One of my problems, and probably not the only one, is thinking that I’m smarter than the average bear and don’t have to read something through before I begin. (I have worked in IT for over 20 years, what does that tell you?) Take for instance, the sauce recipe. I did read it through several weeks ago and evidently I should have read it again BEFORE I began. Wow, I have to roast all these tomatoes? Scoop out the interior flesh and seeds, save for later and place on roasting pans? I don’t remember the roasting part. 40 minutes? I might have to roast in batches if all the pans won’t fit in the oven? Evidently I did NOT read this recipe! Here I stand in the kitchen staring at all those tomatoes in the sink. I say to myself “let’s roast tonight and tomorrow we can cook up the sauce and can.” Yeah, that’s what I will do! 

So I sliced all the tomatoes in half, scooped out the interior and placed the flesh into a bowl. I then spread all the tomatoes on the pans. Okay, that wasn’t too bad. Let’s look at that recipe again. “Remove leaves from 36 sprigs of fresh thyme.” What? Mix with 18 cloves of chopped garlic. Sprinkle over the tomatoes. Drizzle with one half of the olive oil (1-1/2 cups). Whoa! Have you ever removed the leaves from 36 sprigs of thyme before? Yes, there is an easy way by taking if from the top end and sliding your fingers down the stem. But some stems have many little stems! And some of those stems have more little stems! Anyway, I did get that piece done. I was planning on making a vodka tonic while I was working on this recipe and forgot about it for the moment. Maybe that was a good thing!

So I sprinkled the thyme and garlic mix over the tomatoes and drizzled them with the olive oil  I popped three of the four pans into the 350F oven, setting the timer for 40 minutes. Okay, it’s 7 p.m. and I think I can get them all roasted, sealed up in the fridge and finish tomorrow. I walk into the other room, still thinking about making that vodka tonic and get caught up in something else. I walk back into the kitchen and I’m thinking that three of the pans didn’t have much of a lip around the edge. So I put aluminum foil on the bottom rack to catch anything that might drip because I was thinking: olive oil + a hot oven. Not thinking this through again! Ten minutes later I check the tomatoes and flames are flashing up in the oven window! WTF! Deb, you idiot!

What to do, what to do? Leave it? Call the fire department? Throw baking soda on it? Mix a drink?

Believe it or not, I didn’t panic. I just walked over and turned off the oven and decided to quit opening the door! The house filled with a smell of roasted tomatoes and smoke! Shit, I thought, I just wasted 16 pounds of tomatoes and could have burned down the house! No, this isn’t a laughing matter and really not joking about it. Some serious damage could have happened. Maybe Uncle Cecil was looking over me for he was a volunteer firefighter for most of his life. I can see him standing in the doorway of the old farm-house scratching his head and hear him say: “Girl! What the hell where you thinking?”

Anyway, I opened up all windows and exterior doors and set a fan to blow out the smokiness. I decided to give the oven more time to cool down because the last time I popped open the door the flames decided to dance around the edges. Once the oven cooled down, I removed the pans of tomatoes and tossed them all together in a pot. Hey, they weren’t burned up! So I decided to put them through the food mill! Three pans of “roasted” tomatoes and one pan that never made it to the dance. Stuff smells pretty good!

I have a huge pot of sauce in the fridge that I will finish up tomorrow. Oh will those flavors meld together over night and tomorrow I will add the white wine, more garlic, onions, basil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. It isn’t exactly the recipe that I was hoping to make, but it might turn out even better! Though I don’t want to go through this again!

After cleaning up the mess I finally made that cocktail! My eyes are still burning  and I feel drained. Panic? I didn’t think so, but mentally I did. It’s time to take a few days “off” and come home and do absolutely nothing but take my dogs for a much-needed walk and kick back and watch British murder mysteries on Netflix!

The recipe I found in a canning magazine uses 16 pounds of tomatoes, 6 cups of white wine, 6 cups of onions, 36 cloves of garlic, 36 sprigs of thyme, 12 stalks of fresh basil, 3 cups of olive oil, 4 tbsp. of lemon juice and salt and pepper. Just do me a favor, don’t flash roast your tomatoes like I did!

What Do These Items Have in Common?

Dryer lint, vacuum cleaner bag contents, dog and cat hair, human hair, paper, cardboard, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, egg shells, kitchen food waste, leaves, grass clippings, sunflower stalks, yard and garden waste? They are things you can toss into a compost heap. And this is just the tip of the earthy-smelling iceberg! Yes, you can chop and mix these items together to make compost. Compost, a beautiful dark brown or black “gold” is beneficial to the garden. Why is it good for the garden? Because compost:

  • improves the soil
  • is food for plants
  • helps the soil to breathe
  • brings microorganisms and worms to the garden
  • helps the soil to retain water, so you don’t need to use as much
  • limits what we toss in our landfills.

Did you know that we Americans toss more than 34 million tons of food waste per year? 34 million TONS! I don’t know how much you spend on your food budget, but doesn’t it seem like we’re just pissing it away? And if we are spending a lot on our food budgets AND then tossing it out in the trash, how can we complain about the price of food? It doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe we all need a refresher lesson in home economics!

From numbers generated by the EPA for the year 2010, “more than 34 million tons of food waste was generated, more than any other material category but paper.” Food waste was 14 percent of the municipal solid waste stream that year. Along with food waste, yard waste amounted to 13.4 percent, and paper and paper board 28.5 percent. For this blog, I’m not even going to start on plastics! That’s a rant for another time!

If I can add correctly, this comes to 59.5 percent of what’s tossed in the trash per year! 59.5 PERCENT!

What can we do about this problem? For starters, maybe better food management?  But we can begin by composting a good part of what we are tossing out and put our trash to better use. We can reduce our impact while improving the environment. And maybe we begin to realize we don’t need to buy as much stuff and save money at the same time! Sounds good to me!

I will dig deeper into composting and discuss different methods, piles, bins and processes in Chapter 2 of this blog—so stay tuned!

Hey, are you going to eat that apple?

How a Garden Evolves.

If what I say resonates with you, it is merely because we are both branches on the same tree. –  W. B . Yeats 

I’ve been quite busy these days with my full-time job and with home chores that my mind is numb.  It has been too tired to think thoughts through and too tired to put them down in words.  But, in three weeks I head to a much-needed two-week vacation and one that will take me to various places throughout Germany.  I can hardly wait!  The trip planning started last year and is finally approaching.  And now it’s time to do final preparations for the trip and to work on more gardening projects.  Can these projects wait until late October?  Yes some of them can, but Mother Nature always surprises me and if I put tasks off until then it either snows early or some other type of weather event may happen.  Maybe my organizational skills need to improve?  Maybe I should actually write tasks down on the calendar to remind myself of them and not to over book as I typically do?  And then again there are tasks that can wait until late winter or early spring.  So I will decide which ones benefit from completing now and those I can delay.  I suppose I could be outside working instead of writing this blog, too!

The apple tree is in the ground and a few days after we had a good soaking rain.  Yesterday, I noticed new buds of future branches had appeared!   But there are more tasks that must be completed.  I need to edge and mulch and then block it from my dogs.  A pile of dirt sits near the tree and the wheelbarrow is also filled.  I plan to extend the tree’s area by another four feet to its projected drip line.  Next will be to decide what gets planted under the tree.  For early spring flowers I’m going to plant daffodils on the outer edge of the circle.  Then I wondered what could be planted under the tree that has a more useful purpose.  Since I do not plan to spray my trees with any repellents, I began research on what plants are beneficial.  Yesterday I discussed this subject with a friend and he suggested comfrey.  So this morning I decided to look it up and have learned it is an extremely useful plant in the garden and the orchard.  And thus another trip down the Internet brick road began!

While reading up on comfrey, I have learned there are many other plants that will be ideal for my mini-orchard.  Other plants are lavender, nasturtiums, tansy, borage, foxglove, poppies, calendula and wallflowers; many of which are already planted in one of several gardens .  There are so many plants one could use and too many to mention in this blog.  Comfrey is a natural fertilizer and when it dies off in the autumn will help fertilize your trees. It’s also another great plant for the compost pile too.  Lavender or other strong-smelling plants will help repel coddle moths. Poppies and calendula, I have read, are good for the nematodes.  Nasturtiums are good for white flies.  Clover, mint and other herbs will work here as well.  There are so many wonderful plants that are great companions to each other and the fruit trees.  When you start reading about one thing you’ll find several hours later that you have made a winding trip around the universe.  (And thanks to “The Fruity Chicken” I have just ordered 10 1-year old comfrey plants from Coe’s Comfrey.)

Earlier this year I tested a patch of mixed clover to see if it would be a better replacement for grass.   There are a number of alternative grass options and I selected a clover mix.  It was just a small patch that I planted which is mowable if desired.  I do like green grass and there are good memories of running through it barefoot as a child in summer.  And don’t you just love the smell of fresh-cut grass!  But other than its eye-pleasing appeal, it doesn’t have much use in my yard.  Most of my neighbors have well-manicured front yards, and at one time so did I. But I have evolved and so have my gardens. And in Colorado with a west-facing house, the grass burns up by July and the dogs wear down the backyard.  Thus, I will plant a clover mix in some areas and under the apple and cherry trees.  I’ll also plant an area where my dogs roam to see how well that holds up.  The mix that I use is a blend of both perennial and annual seeds. The perennial seeds contain: Johnny Jump-Up, Strawberry Clover, Creeping Thyme, Soapwort, Sheep Fescue, English daisy and Roman Chamomile.  There are annual flowers included that give you a mix of color during the first season.

In doing research about what to plant under my apple and cherry trees, I have learned what I can use to replace the grass with plants of higher value throughout the yard.  They’ll be planted to help reduce problems with pests, to give nutrition back to the soil and the fruit trees, tossed in the compost pile, and to nourish both my body and soul.  Now I see more gardens coming together in my mind, just by planting a tree and adding companion plants beneath.  Lately, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the edible front yard I want to build.  I have had many questions about the design.  How can I design it as both functional and beautiful; one that is pleasing to the eye for others and beneficial for nature, the neighborhood and me?  Fruit trees and edible plants along with companions will help to create this wonderful space and it will just evolve!

The Warm September Sun

“Happy we who can bask in this warm September sun, which illumines all creatures, as well when they rest as when they toil, not without a feeling of gratitude; whose life is as blameless, how blameworthy soever it may be, on the Lord’s Mona-day as on his Suna-day. –   Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862

Early this morning I arose and looked out the window to check out the backyard.  Last night I had to cut five pumpkins off the vine and I had minor worries that squirrels would already be feasting before I brought them in.   They’ve been ripe for a while.  There were a lot of hot days this year and the pumpkins are early.  So there will be no light frosts before removing them from the patch.  If I leave them to set in the garden, the squirrels will surely have a feast.   There’s one that I pulled up by accident when it was green.  It is changing to orange, but it does not have the weight like the others.  So it’s fate will be that of a true Jack O’ Lantern come Halloween!  There are more green pumpkins in the garden and as I suspected most had small chunks chewed on the rind.  A nibble could be found on one and then another.  The rinds are still too hard to punch through so the squirrels aren’t able to pull out the seeds and move to another.  The squirrels have not ruined all the pumpkins; at least not yet!

Nothing saddens me more than walking out into the garden and finding something completely demolished by the squirrels.  And typically, they don’t demolish the entire vegetable or fruit; they chew parts here and there and move on to the next.  All the planning, planting, nurturing, weeding, watering and tending of the garden only for those greedy critters to run amok.  I’ve shared it with many:  birds, bees, butterflies, bugs.  But the squirrels wreak havoc on my garden.   For me, my garden is like an old friend.  I tend to have conversations with my garden.  Each tomato, pepper, squash, beet or carrot is special and I sit in the midst of the garden and commune with all.  It’s also a place where I remember an uncle of mine who passed suddenly in 1992.  He was 62 and much too young to leave the earth so soon.  Each seed, plant and weed reminds me of him.  For he loved his garden and the art of gardening!  He planted more than one could eat, but he loved it so much and he took his harvest to town to share with others.  I learned so much from him.  He introduced me to “Mother Earth News” and “Monty Python.”  One day I will write about Cecil, but it will take time to put all the thoughts and memories that flood my mind together.  Some day. 

September is my most favorite month of the year.  But then when March arrives, I’ll probably tell you March is my favorite month of the year!  Now that the garden is winding down, thoughts of next year’s garden and what I want to do differently or what new things I hope to plant are taking precedence.  Cool nights are great for sleeping, windows still wide open in the early morn, my body hunkered down beneath the comforter with a cool breeze wafting across my face.  Yes, fall is approaching rapidly.  And now it’s time to harvest more of the garden.  With that brings bittersweet feelings for me because I’ve spent a good part of my time working in this garden.  Now the plants are dying and fruits dropping to the ground.  Paths that were just recently hard to meander through are now visible!  But only a stranger to the garden would have had a problem finding their way around it.

After picking five pounds of tomatillos, the delicata squash and more tomatoes, I took a moment to sit down on the east side of the house and allowed the sun to warm my bones.  I could have fallen asleep as I sat there listening to the sounds of the backyard and the neighborhood with my eyes closed, face angled toward the sun.  Early enough that only a dog or two were barking.  The blue jay making his warning calls that I was the intruder.  I wanted to curl up and take a quick nap, but thoughts of tasks looming before me snapped me back to life.

The hole for the apple tree was dug and completed today.  Tomato sauce and tomatillo green salsa are on the canning agenda.  Plus I need to clean out the unfinished basement and make an area to store the winter squash and canned items for the season.  There isn’t much in the basement other than spiders and webs.  I’ll have to don a Class B hazardous waste suit to keep me from feeling the webs and jumping up and down like a wayward pogo stick.  Maybe I’ll wait and do it another day!

There are still beets, carrots, potatoes, peppers, pumpkins, new lettuce, kale, winter squash, tomatoes and tomatillos in the garden.  Not all are ready and some of them will stay into winter.  I’ll loosen up the soil around them first.  But I always worry about which ones won’t make it, won’t ripen in time because the growing season here can be short.

Well, the morning is passing fast and as usual I won’t get everything I’d like to do completed today.  Maybe I will just head to the hardware store and buy cedar boards.  There are several new raised beds I want to build.  I am going to triple the garlic beds this fall.  My first year was very successful and I harvested about 50 head of garlic.  The organic garlic bulbs will ship on September 20 so I better get this task on the list and start it soon.  Just after I finish the hole for the apple tree.  Yeah.  I think I will  head back out into that warm September sun and take a nap!

Fruit Trees

My first attempt at planting and growing fruit trees began this summer.  One day in May as I walked into a local store for Fevertree Tonic; there was a display of cherry juices and a cherry tree.  The sign said “fill out the card and win a cherry tree.”  So I did!  Normally, I don’t!  But this time I decided why not.  A question on the card asked for reasons why cherry juice is good for you.  And that reminded me of something.  Several years ago, while riding my motorcycle around Denver on a very hot day, the fingers on my right hand swelled up.  I had no idea why, but I could barely squeeze the brake.  On top of that, it was very painful.  The doctor at the clinic said he thought it was gout.  Gout?  Why would I have gout?  I was under the impression that men typically came down with gout.  And, I thought, doesn’t it normally affect one’s feet?  It’s been about 6 years and I don’t remember what the urgent care doctor prescribed but I did my own research.  My general practitioner wasn’t so sure it was gout in the first place.  And whether or not it was gout I read that tart cherry juice can alleviate the swelling and the pain and to keep gout at bay.  So I added tart cherry juice to my diet.  Whether cherry juice has helped or not, it has never happened again.  Was it gout?  Who knows!  Maybe it was a spider bite or a bee sting.  Anyway, I received a phone call in June informing me that I won “the grand prize!”  It turned out to be a 5′ Montmorency cherry tree.

I was planning on adding fruit trees to my yard eventually and this was the perfect start.  I did my homework and found out this type is self-pollinating.  That’s good.  Also, it bears tart cherries!  Hopefully next year, it will bear fruit.  Though I doubt seriously that it will bear enough fruit for a pie!  So now I have the fruit tree bug!  Back in August I picked up a honeycrisp apple tree that I found in the back of a nursery with several others.  It is about 7′ tall and had about 10 apples hanging from small spindly limbs due to being root-bound in a 4-gallon pot.

Now I really have to do my homework!  I don’t have a lot of experience in growing fruit trees. And my mind just went into overload!  What do I need to do to properly plant this tree?  Is it self-pollinating or, as I learned, self-sterile?  Since I consider myself to be an organic suburban radical gardener how do I grow this appropriately?  After reading about apple trees, I found out the honeycrisp is self-sterile and needs another type of apple tree, other than the same species, to pollinate.  I have a 40-year old crab apple next to the house and my neighbor behind me has a giant 40-year old apple tree.  I learned these would be sufficient.  The master gardener at the nursery told me that another tree has to be within a mile.  A mile?  Okay.  I read that within 30 feet is better.  Now, where should I plant this tree?  This can be the most difficult aspect of planting for me—answering the question on where something should be planted!  But I have learned that with most things I can change it out later.  Obviously that’s not going to happen with an established tree!  I thought about out front, on the side yard, because I am planning on redesigning the front to make it more of an edible landscape.  Until I found out how tall this tree can get (15′-30′) and how wide it can spread (10′-15′).  Well, that’s not going to work.  I decided to plant it in the middle of the back yard.  Next I’m going to need to prepare the hole for the tree.  How wide, how deep?  Most sites suggested 4′ wide and 2′ deep.  Okay.  That’s doable.  Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I remember hearing about planting trees only in months that contain an “R.”  Does this apply to apple trees too?  Also, I purchased this tree in August.  August is typically very hot and that would require a lot more water to keep it going.  So I decided to wait until September to plant the tree.  I brought the tree home about the 2nd week of August.  I figured I had plenty of time to get started on that hole.  And as usual for me, it’s now September 3 and I am finally getting it started!

Most of my weekends have been filled with compost outreach at the local Farmer’s Markets. While there I engage in very interesting conversations with my teammates about farming, different types of practices, food and current events.  I’ve mentioned the tree and some ideas were shared about how to plant.  One of the guys recommended I talk to the instructors in my upcoming permaculture class about ways of planting the tree more efficiently.  Another mentioned hugelkultur.  While I’ve heard of hugelkultur, I’ve not used these methods, so I do not have any experience with it that I know of.  There are practices I have used or learned and some I have never equated with an actual “name.”   But I’m not sure how well that works with fruit trees, or rather, if there’s some amount of time that it needs to be set up first and then one can plant.  So I can see that more research on hugelkultur is in my future.

Another conversation led to increasing the planting area for the apple tree all the way to the (full-grown) drip line.  Wow, this will be a gigantic hole and also a lot of work for me!  It’s just me and a shovel!  But I don’t believe he meant a 15′ circle with two or three feet of soil removed.  At least I hope not!  I’ll be digging this into October.  Well at least it’s another month with an R!  So here’s what I’m planning to do.  I am going to dig the main hole about 4′ wide by 2′ deep and slope the hole to be deeper in the center.  Then I am going to cut out the yard in a 15′ circle about 6-12 inches deep beyond the main hole.  Next I’m going to take leaves that I collect from the neighborhood and mix up with soil along with my cured compost. This should make a decent planting area for the new tree. The conversation then turned to what should be planted beneath the tree.  Something to keep the grass from returning and something that would not rob the tree of its nutritional requirements.  Then thoughts entered my head about some rain harvesting.  I can redirect the rain from the back downspout through 3 or 4 hoses and allow certain areas of my garden and yard to receive more water and two can be directed to my two fruit trees.  I do have a rain barrel under one downspout, but that’s illegal here.  I like to use the rain water when starting new plants, shrubs or trees.  So far, the rain police have not stopped by.  But it also hasn’t rained much lately and the barrel is now empty.  Is redirecting the water considered “collecting it” or is it truly a redirection?  Well, I have time to research this and will just add it to the list.  In the meantime, I need to get that hole finished!

The Fall Task List

I have been thinking of all the things I would like to do this fall.  Planting bulbs, garlic, wildflower seeds for next season, preparing beds for next year.  Maybe planting cover crops in the raised beds too.  Lots of ideas and designs swirling around in my head.  Surveying the yard, both front and back, and wishing I could snap my fingers and a new hedgerow was planted and looks as though it’s been there for a several years.

The inside of the house needs work such as paint.  Rain barrels need to be spray painted so I can work on designs this winter.  Many, many tasks to think about, decide which to work on and those that can wait.  How does one get it done?  Even with hired help from time to time, there’s always more to do.

I envision an explosion of color next spring with tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, Japanese iris and crocuses as they bloom for the first time on this property.  So far, I have about 400 bulbs to plant and am hoping to plant another 600 more.

The hedgerow design keeps working its way back to the top of the list, too.  There is about 160 feet along one side of the back yard that needs the hedgerow and 65 feet along another side.  This will take some careful planning and the right mix of shrubs and trees, both evergreen and deciduous, that will merge beautifully.  I lie awake in the early morning thinking about this most days.

Ideas, ideas, ideas.  Swirling around constantly in this head of mine.  Time to figure out which are important and which are not.  For one must have time for family and friends and for personal reflection.