Sunday, August 31, 2008

I Love 100%...

...germination rate!  This little row of green beans, and another one just like it have given me my first ever 100% rate.  It doesn't take much to impress this gardener. Mostly because I'm just flying by the seat of my pants when it comes to growing food.  As I've said in past posts, growing up in Missouri, it seemed like my dad just threw seeds at our garden and things grew.  I know that's not true, because I hauled yards of compost to our little patch of dirt and I turned soil and I made manure tea with rabbit poo.  Still, it seemed magic.
Growing anything in Central Texas is another game all together.  Soil stinks, rain is fickle, and the heat is oppressive to man, beast and plant.  So, I get excited when it works out.  When stuff comes up and produces food.  Mostly, because I'm just faking it.  I follow the rules, but mother nature laughs at rules.
I found it to be a bit painful to thin my collards yesterday.  It seemed wrong to pull up perfectly good plants.  What if I was pulling up the one that was going to do well, and leaving behind one that would wither and die?  Decisions, decisions.

I made the best of a hard job and fed the collard seedlings that didn't make the cut, to the chickens.  It was a win-win situation.  
I'm still on the lookout for my potatoes to push up plants from their soil.  This week I'll be putting in broccoli and brussels sprouts.  Garlic in October.  Flying by the seat of my gardening pants.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mes prières sont avec vous

Translation: My prayers are with you.

I never knew what it was about New Orleans that folks got all excited about.  Then I went.  Then I met the people.  Lee and I were there last March.  Every local that we met thanked us for coming to visit.  They said tourism enabled them to come home.
Before Hurricane Katrina, I thought everyone there was nuts for living on the coast and below sea level.  During Katrina I thought the same thing.  When Lee and I went and were able to hear people's stories, I didn't feel that way any more.
The folks we met are there for many reasons. Their culture is there.  Their food is there.  Their music is there. Their families are there. The city was founded in 1718 by the French.  They've been stirring their city's cultural pot for 290 years!  Giving up on those things just aren't possible.

I'm crushed that just three years after Katrina it looks like they may get another direct hit.  There was so much talk about not rebuilding after Katrina.  Hurricanes were bound hit again.  I think not rebuilding New Orleans because of "what ifs" would be the same as telling San Francisco they can't rebuild after an earthquake. Goodness knows that there's bound to be another big earthquake.  

There is no place else in the world that is New Orleans.  It's so much more than buildings and sidewalks and parks.  It is a people and a culture that cannot be recreated anywhere, any more than Austin or San Francisco or Seattle or New York City can be recreated.  

On the eve of another disaster, I send my prayers of support and safety for everyone that is in the path of Hurricane Gustav.  

Update: For the sake of history, in case someone comes across this post a hundred years from now----New Orleans was spared a direct hit and the storm was downgraded from a (possible incoming) category 5 to a category 2 storm. The levees held and the exodus from the city went very well.  No one died.  Thank the good Lord.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Freaky Friday

I think most folks wonder if I love bugs.  Really, I don't think much about them one way or the other.  I take pictures of them because they are willing subjects.  For the most part, they are doing something (eating) that overrides their fear of humans. I would very much like to take pictures of birds, butterflies, and bees, but they are flighty--no pun intended.
So, below are some pictures of willing subjects.  If you're brave, don't forget to click on the pictures so you can see them close up.
Young Katydid.  The extra leg you see, sticking out to the left, doesn't belong to him. I must have caught him at the very end of his meal.  
I'm sure this slug has a scientific name, but I can't find it.  It is over 5 inches long.  I found it wandering through the grass of the house we rented on Orcas Island, WA. When James saw this picture he wanted to know why I'd taken a picture of poo. Admit it, you thought the same thing, too.  
Cicada shell on Purple Fountain grass.  I would love to get a picture of a cicada emerging from its shell, but that only happens at night.  I love sleep more.
Cicada shell on Copper Canyon Daisy.
Cicada shell on Mexican Bush Sage. I like how the shell is still covered in dirt.  

A new find.  Okay, I was excited about this one.  I called my family and neighbor to come see.  We've had this Flowering Senna bush/tree for 3 years.  I have taken many pictures of other bugs on this bush and never seen caterpillars before.  This cat, and his 20+ brothers and sisters are going to become Cloudless Sulfur Butterflies.  A website I checked out says the cats come in two colors--green or yellow.  They think it depends on whether the cats eat the flowers or the leaves, but aren't sure.  All my cats are eating flowers.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

In Case You Ever Get Lost

Texas Longhorn Cattle on Wildlife Refuge, OK Photographic Print by Allen Russell
Well thank goodness there was a study done on this!  According to some scientists, there is a belief that cattle and other herd animals might have the ability to track north and south by magnetics.  They are being compared to those animals that migrate--birds, butterflies and even sea turtles.  
This study, like many others, has me shaking my head.  Number one, what am I supposed to do with this information, except maybe win a round of Trivial Pursuit?
Number two, aren't there more pressing studies to be done?  Cancer, hunger, world peace, number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?  Wait, that one's been done.
Number three, did these scientists bother to test which way the wind was blowing? In my experience, herd animals tend to turn their backsides to the prevailing wind. My experience also tells me that, in general, the wind tends to blow out of the north and south.  Seldom do we get a wind out of the east or west.  
Oh well, if I'm ever lost in the middle of a pasture, I'll be sure to seek out cattle to point the way home.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Three Guesses

Before you guess, click on the picture and study it in a larger format.

1. Deer poo from a deer who got into a box of those "Greenies" for dogs.

2. Donut seeds

3. Proof that chickens can see colors and have taste preferences.

If you guessed # 3, you're right!  Yesterday, I put out about 2 cups of stale Apple Jacks cereal.  They come in two colors---yellow and green.  Since the whole works is artificially flavored and colored, I figured they tasted the same. Well, evidently my chickens prefer the yellow ones over the green ones.  Do they taste different? Can they really see color?  I really never thought about it, but I was fascinated to go out an find this pile of uneaten green ones.  They feel the same way about green beans too.  I gave them some leftover pasta salad yesterday too.  They ate the orzo, herbs and chickpeas, but left the green beans.  They eat grass like it's going out of style, but won't eat green beans and green Apple Jacks.  Go figure?

First Day of School

James. Age 9. (almost 10) 4th Grade
Pearl. Age 13. (almost 14) 8th grade
Tom. Age 16. 11th grade

Where did the summer go? Where did the time go? What blows my mind is that this is the year of the PSAT and looking at colleges for Tom. Wasn't he a cute, fuzzy haired baby just yesterday?

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Very Nice Award

This lovely award came from a new blogging friend, Vonda, over at The Little Egg Farm.  She blogs about family, and farm with vivid descriptions and pictures.  It always calms me just visiting her blog.  It's almost like being there.  

I would like to pass this award along to another blogger who always makes me think. They are in the "middle of nowhere" in Pennsylvania.  They go by the pseudonyms of 'Our Friend, Ben' and 'Silence Dogood'.  They have an occasional post by a friend, 'Poor Richard'.  The site is witty and full of friends, recipes and things that make you go, "hhmmm."  Please visit Poor Richard's Almanac.  Ben or Silence, if you see this, just put it in your treasure box or pass it along if you see fit.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Day of Gardening

My youngest, James, is getting bit by the gardening bug.  He helped me clean up the beds a couple days ago, and yesterday helped me prepare and plant in those same beds.
We have a few plants that are still hanging on.  Pomegranates, Peppers and Sweet Potatoes.  That's it.  It's time to plant for a late fall harvest.

You may wonder what funky topping we put on this bed.  It's cayenne.  Because this bed is unprotected, I have to coat it every couple days with a coating of pepper. The dogs would find it impossible not to dig and roll in it otherwise.  I can just hear their singing voices...."Foooorrr Mmeeeeee!?".  We planted Red Pontiac potatoes here this year.  They are far, far away from their normal spot.  I had a case of Early Blight in my spring potatoes.  We'll see how they do in this bed.  It doesn't get nearly as much sun as I'd like.

In the same bed as you see the Sweet Potatoes, we planted Green Bean (Provider) and Collard(Georgia Southern) seeds.  In early-mid September, we'll put out Broccoli and Brussels Sprout transplants. They will overwinter with some protection.  I was told by a master gardener that the brassica family is much sweeter if it's exposed to colder temperatures.  Last year we found that to be true.  In October I hope to try Spinach and Leaf Lettuces again.  The snails, pillbugs and slugs made quick work of those things last fall.  

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Tastes Like Chicken!

"But that is a chicken, so why wouldn't it taste like chicken?" The real question is: do you know what real chicken tastes like?  

For quite some time, I've been tossing around the idea of growing and eating my own chickens.  I was raised in the midwest and saw truckload after truckload of animals headed to slaughter.  Even as a little girl, it made an impression on me--a very negative one.  My father took me hunting for years and taught me to respect the animals we killed.  Suffering was not a part of the equation.  As I grew older, I was exposed to chicken houses in Arkansas and feedlots in Missouri.  The animals were eating things they were never meant to eat (corn for cattle, chicken poop and feathers for chickens), and packed in like sardines in a can. They were not living the way they were meant to live before we eat them.  Long ago, I told myself that if I could ever grow and slaughter my own meat, that I would.  All these years I've just separated myself mentally from where my meat comes from; and how it ultimately meets its death.  

I am taking one step away from grocery store chicken after 40+ years.  Baby steps. 
My first bit of business was to see if "real" chicken tasted any different than grocery store chicken.  Goodness knows it is a lot of work to take a chicken from coop to table.  Would it be worth it?  I headed to my local Farmers Market in search of chicken that had a good life and died without suffering.  I came across Dewberry Hills Farm table and purchased a chicken.  

When I brought it home, poor Lee......well, I'd paid $12 for a chicken!  Twice the grocery store price. "That had better be one tasty bird!"  I pressed on.  When I opened the packaging (vacuum packed-frozen) it was then that I knew things were going to be different.  It didn't have that funky smell that grocery store chickens have.  I cut it up and discovered it had been very well bled.  Nothing puts me off chicken more quickly than a bloody drumstick.  I chose to bake it with just salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  The moment of truth was just around the corner, would it be a "tasty bird"?  It tasted wonderful!!  Lee described it as 'fresh'.  The kids said it didn't taste 'chickeny' --like fish tastes fishy when it's not so fresh.  I thought it was mild, and tender.  I could gush on, but you get the picture.

When I emailed the Dewberry Hills Farm to let them know how much I'd enjoyed their chicken, Jane was nice enough to email me back.  We exchanged stories and she was kind enough to offer that I could come out to her farm the next time they processed chickens.  I want to see what I'm getting myself into.  Tyson is certainly not going to let me anywhere near their growing or processing plants!

Anyway, real chicken tastes nothing like grocery store chicken, I'm happy to say. I'll be ordering chicks in a month or so.  In the meantime, I need to get busy building a moveable chicken coop (chicken tractor).  The chickens get a new patch of pasture every day, all the bugs, dirt and grass they can eat and plenty of sunshine.  The way they were meant to live.  Guilt will no longer be part of my chicken-eating equation. 

If There Were a Picture in the Dictionary...

...under the definition of Indeterminate Plant, this is what you'd see.
This is just one plant.  A grape tomato plant, and a volunteer at that.  It decided to take up residence in a place that I and guests don't often see. Thus, my ability to just let it roam. Like all my other volunteers, I let it go to see what it would do.  Like the Energizer Bunny, 'it just keeps going and going...". It shows no sign of slowing down and has been my best producer thus far.  

Honestly, I just learned last year that there are Determinate tomatoes and Indeterminate toms.  Determinates tend to have a more compact plant and fruit that ripens more closely together.  In other words, the plant doesn't get out of hand, but your number of tomatoes is limited.  They just give up.  Indeterminates, on the other hand, will continue to grow and put on fruit until the first frost.  That means you will have to constantly be making sure to prop/tie up the plant, but it will keep it with putting the "T" in your BLTs.  Honestly, I haven't decided which is best for me.  My space is limited, but my need for homegrown tomatoes isn't.  I'm not a sauce maker or a canner.  I just want fresh, sliced tomatoes with dinner or on a sandwich.  
Which do you grow? Why?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Goodbye Orcas, Hello Seattle

The morning we were slated to leave Orcas, I headed down to the beach one last time.  The tide was the lowest I'd seen, and it exposed far more rocky shore than in any previous morning.  Camera in hand, I found dozens of starfish.  They came in the bright purple you see here, and in pinkish-orange.  The kids said the orange ones reminded them of Patrick Star on Spongebob Squarepants.

Goodbye Orcas.  I plan on coming back.
After leaving Orcas, we had another several hours of travel---waiting for the ferry and then driving to Seattle once we reached the mainland.  Lee was hoping to get back to Seattle in time to see the Chittenden/Ballard Locks before they closed for the day.  We didn't get any pictures there.  A couple of the kids were having drama about being there at all.  There was nothing even remotely interesting about locks and fish ladders, as far as they were concerned.  I thought it was pretty amazing that humans were even a little bit concerned about fish and whether they could still get upstream.  
The next day was spent at the Seattle Center Complex.  We spent time at several of the attractions.  The picture above is the outside of the Experience Music Project. It reminds me of Darth Vader's helmet.   The inside was full of hands-on music experiences and exhibits about musicians.  The most interesting to me was the exhibit on Jimi Hendrix.  Pretty amazing man, in spite of his early demise.
What trip to Seattle would be complete without a visit to the Space Needle.  It was a fairly clear morning, so we could see for miles.  Bonus points to anyone who can identify which movie I'm thinking of in this shot.  Hint: Giant Cockroach.
I'm really trying to branch out in my picture taking.  Nature is much easier to capture than human beings.  This man was in the Seattle Center park.  I wanted a picture of him that wasn't posed, so I was standing a ways off.  Doggoneit, if folks didn't keep walking in front of him.  Didn't they see me standing 100 feet away with my telephoto lens? 
Again, picture out of order.  This is a sculpture in the entry hall of the Experience Music Project.  We weren't supposed to take any pictures of anything, so I stole this one off the internet.  If you put on headphones nearby, you could hear the "music" it was producing.  James is our guitar player, so we spent a lot of time looking at the different guitars and discussing the sculpture in general.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Can I Have a Hallelujah, Please!

All right, so snails don't constitute a religious outcry, but almost. 
The snails you see on the right are brown, garden snails.  They are munching and breeding machines.  They love dark, damp places.  Under my beloved Hostas it is both dark and damp.  They wander from their hiding places every night and eat any green thing they happen upon.  They, along with their cousins, the slugs, are my gardening nemesis. There's not enough beer at a frat party to kill off the multitude that live in my garden.  I have used Sluggo in the past, but then found a dead toad and quit using it.  I know toads eat slugs and snails too.  I feared I'd killed him secondhand.  

I spent the better part of one morning visiting with Uncle Google a year ago; trying to find a way to kill off the little slimeballs.  I came across a website devoted only to predatory animals/bugs that eat the 'bad bugs' in the garden.  Yes, ducks love snails and slugs, but Lee wasn't buying it.  Besides, we'd be trading in one slimy thing for another kind of slimy stuff altogether--duck poo. 
Another critter was called a Decollate Snail.  Huh?! Snails eating snails? I Googled Decollate snail and sure enough, it's true.  They eat snails, slugs and both their eggs.  Winter came and I put off buying some.  I was doing yard work at church the following spring and found Decollate snails! I rounded up all I could find (a dozen or so) and brought them home to my garden.  Last summer we had so much rain we didn't know what to do, but the brown garden snails did--make baby snails.  I searched for signs of my predatory snails, but all I found were empty shells.  Back to square one. 

Winter and spring came and went.  Here we are in the middle of a very dry summer, but it's still dark and damp under my hostas.  The strange thing is, I haven't been fighting the brown snails.  I chalked it up to the overall dryness of the garden.  Today, it was time to cut down all the hostas for the season.  Their flowers were spent and they had suffered enough in our heat.  As James and I were cutting, I found Decollate snails everywhere! Big ones, medium ones, and teeny-tiny ones.  I don't know how it happened, but it did. They were there all along, when I thought they were dead.  Score one for me and the toads! Hallelujah! 

I Know You MIssed Spider Photos

Don't forget to click on the pictures if you want to see the spiders close up. Otherwise, you're safe. :)
I took these pics yesterday. Gotta love insects, they are never in a real hurry to go anywhere. Especially when they are eating.

Here a Crab Spider is having a fly for lunch.

A new spider in my garden, or new to me anyway. Pearl was kind enough to save me some time with Uncle Google---she said it's a Green Lynx Spider. She was right! After I took its picture, I spent some more time looking at the plant it was on, and discovered it has several brothers and sisters.

Orcas Island. Day 3 (8-8-08)

Really, would it be too much to ask for everyone to smile?  Geez, we're trying to get a Christmas card picture here!

Proof that Lee was on our vacation.  He's usually the one behind the camera and we rarely have proof that he'd gone with us.  

Me, wondering how old this tree was before it fell down.  These pictures were taken in Moran State park.  More to come on that later.  

James, the salmon king.  This wonderful chair was on the front porch of the house we rented.

Let's guess which way the prevailing winds come out of on Orcas.  The pines are none the worse for wear, but many of the deciduous trees can be seen leaning in one direction.

As you can tell, my pictures are out of order.  Blogger and I have a difference of opinion as to how many pictures I can load at one time.  

Moran State park covers 5,000 acres of untouched old growth trees.  The land was donated in 1921, by ship builder, Robert Moran.  During the 1930's the Civil Corps of Engineers built all the trails and tower that now stands at the top of Mt. Constitution (2,409 ft).  Mt. Constitution is the highest point in the San Juan Island chain.

One of the views from the top of Mt. Constitution.

Cascade Falls

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Orcas Island. Day 2 (8-7-08)

We slept like stones, all five of us.  Lee and I were awakened by a strange, high pitched twittering sound. It reminded us of the sounds hawks make back home.  We'd been told by our hostess, Elizabeth, that a pair of eagles nested in one of the trees on the property.  Sure enough, the twittering belonged to the pair!  Lee caught a picture of them on the beach during low tide.  They were sharing breakfast.
We don't know if this is Mr. or Mrs. Eagle.  Seeing them this close might be old hat to the native islanders, but it was a major treat for us.  We were awakened by them, all three days we were there.
We couldn't resist getting a picture of this little bird and his wild bed-head.  He was a good sport about it.  It's a testament to how soundly we all slept.
We got all excited and thought we'd found proof of the sea otters that Elizabeth had mentioned the night before.  After more investigation, we found that these prints were left on the beach by a raccoon.  
We spent the early part of the day exploring the beach below the house and the the town of East Sound.  We tortured the boys by making them go in all the kitschy little shops.  We bought a pint of enormous blueberries for just 3 bucks--a steal if you ask me. The highlight of the day was still before us.

At 4:30 we made our way back to Orcas Village at the other end of the island.  We'd arranged to go on a whale watching trip with Eclipse Charters.
Dan and Denise Wilks are the owners.  They couldn't have been nicer folks.  We'd had a mix up earlier in the day about our reservations.  It seems that Denise's sister had misplaced our reservation for 1:00.  We all agreed that going on the 5:00 tour would be just fine.  Denise thought we were doing them some big favor by agreeing to switch.  She wanted to comp us the price of one of our tickets and gave us free hats and a t-shirt.  It was all unnecessary, but she insisted.
At 5:00, Dan pushed away from the dock with 50 people on board.  We were in search of Orcas aka Killer Whales.
We passed by a nesting site of Cormorants.  If you click on the picture, you'll be able to see the huge nests they make out of large sticks.  When we passed by, I thought they were made out of grasses and small sticks.  Upon closer inspection, it almost looks like driftwood.
This is a lighthouse on the northern tip of San Juan Island.  It's so much more barren than Orcas Island, but it gets pelted by northern winds and rain.
James is on the lookout for black dorsal fins.  Luckily, the various tour companies and fishing boats are willing to pass along information regarding where they've seen whales.  That keeps them all from wasting a lot of gas while looking for the whales.
Captain Dan in the wheelhouse.
Okay, this young elephant seal is out of place in the picture order.  He's supposed to be right before the picture of the boat.  He was "hauled out" right below the deck where we were waiting to get on the boat.  He was all by himself, which had the locals worried that he was sick.  Turns out he had recently moulted on another island and was just resting.   
We found them!  Dorsal fins ahead.  There is a federal law that says boaters are not to get within 100 yards of any sea mammal.  If they come to you, it's another story. There are 3 pods of whales on the Pacific coast/ Puget sound.  Pods J, K and L.  The whales in these pictures are from J-Pod.  I found out something I didn't know about these pods---they only eat salmon and herring.  Really.  No seals, no sea birds, no sea otters, just salmon and herring.  I spent a lot of time wondering about their fate if we, as humans, messed up the salmon population.  The orcas that you see on the Discovery channel chasing seals right up onto the beach are from what are called Transient pods.  Each pod is lead by a matriarch whale.  She is most always the oldest in the group--similar to elephants.  This year, the matriarch of J-pod did not return.  She has been studied and spotted for many years and they estimate her age to be over 90 years old. 

Mother and calf, J-42.  She was born in May of 2007 and named after our tour company, Eclipse.
Here, mom leaves the calf in a quick surge for salmon.
A brave, very large male comes close to the boat.