"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Just Who Do I think I Am, and What the Hell Do I Think I'm Doing?

Although it was a beautiful day here, weatherwise, it was a rather discouraging day for me personally. I'm not sure why - it was a fairly ordinary day. Some friends came by in the morning unexpectedly, and I had to scramble to find a meal to cook for them (Mexicans - if a family of Mexicans ever comes to visit you, know that you should provide a fairly substantial meal no matter what the time of day, and also that you will have to coax them to eat it. They will refuse, but just load up the plates and push. That's what's expected.).

I had about twenty minutes notice, so after I checked the fridge and ascertained there was basically nothing in it, I ran out to the chest freezer. There was also basically nothing in it. I'm down to three gallons of blueberries, three or four large beef roasts, one half-ham, and some dog bones. I picked the last package of small steaks - tenderloins, and cut them up frozen and fried them with jalapenos and garlic (I didn't have an onion in the house, can you imagine?) and served them with last night's reheated white rice and some canned refried beans. Pretty embarrassing.

I've been following a lot of "sustainability" blogs, and there are apparently a lot of people out there who take producing their own food a lot more seriously than I do. I have nothing but admiration for these people - I desire to emulate them. But surely I am not there yet. If my family had to depend on what I have been able to produce and preserve over the last year, we'd be in serious starvation mode right about now. Much less would I be able to entertain - as evidenced by today's adventure.

Of course, when I moved out of the city three years ago, starvation was the very last thing on my mind. I simply wanted to provide my young children with the opportunity to grow up with space to run and experience nature, the way I did. I wanted them to have the chance to interact with the plant and the animal kingdom in an immediate and emotional way, to ENJOY nature in the simplest, most visceral way - by playing in it. I wanted to recreate the best aspects of my own childhood while (hopefully) avoiding the worst. And in terms of that goal, I have been extremely successful. My kids have a grand old time digging for worms, catching frogs and snakes, gathering eggs, milking goats, picking flowers, and generally running wild.

But over a relatively short period of time, my goals changed. I became aware of crucial and short-term problems such as peak oil, climate change, and the disappearance of the honeybee. I started to worry, in a serious and sustained way, about how I was going to provide for the well-being of my progeny, to the second and third generation. The most common way parents try to do this is by paying for their children's college education, or maybe even giving them the funds for a down payment on a house. Thanks to my generous ancestors, my kid's college education is assured. I hope they will each take full advantage of that benefit. However, in the past few generations, Americans seem to have collectively decided that preparing our children for the future means preparing them to make money. I no longer believe that is a very practical goal. I have begun to wonder if money in the bank is going to be worth anything at all by the time my children are adults starting their own families.

I don't pretend to know what the world will be like in twenty or thirty years. But I will say I am not very optimistic. I believe there is a better than even chance that life is going to be very much more difficult - Americans will be poorer, with less access to healthcare and credit, and in general people will have to depend much more on localized economies - barter with their neighbors -and the sweat of their own brows. If that is the case, then the most important thing I can leave my children is fertile land and the knowhow to make it productive. When I think about what I can do to help my children be successful, I think about preparing them to be able to grow, store, and prepare their own food; to build and maintain their own systems of energy generation; to care for livestock and the fertility of the soil, and to doctor themselves and their children.

Well.... for the last three years, I've been working pretty hard to try and educate myself about all those subjects. I've made it my business to learn about small scale subsistence farming. I've laid out a plan for a self-sustaining homestead that includes food production, energy production, water security, and a full-scale library on a wide variety of topics, from beekeeping to home midwifery. I've laid in a supply of hand tools and a multi-year supply of seeds.

But while I have thoroughly enjoyed the planning and the reading, I would be a liar if I said that the practical results have been wholly satisfactory. Here is a small list of the things that are currently plaguing my homestead:

1) the chickens are not laying. They apparently don't like their home. Some of them seem to have diarrhea - most likely coccidia from living in a damp environment. They were happier and healthier when let to range freely, but we could never find the eggs and they would destroy our seedlings in the spring garden. Which is the better path? Don't know..... don't know. Everything I read says chickens are the easiest livestock on earth, which only makes me me feel like the biggest idiot on earth.

2) Pasture rotation - it turns out that a couple of ponies and four to six goats can strip five acres of land right down to the bone in three years. When we first came here, there were blackberry bushes galore - so many that I thought our goats would never be able to control them. Boy was I wrong. Now I wish the whole damn property was covered in blackberry bushes.

3) Noxious Weeds - there are some things the goats won't eat. Turns out these things are: various species of thistles, poison hemlock, creeping buttercup, milkweed, shotweed, and pretty much every noxious or invasive weed you've ever heard of. What this means is that year after year, my pastures have a tendency to become more and more thickly covered with poisonous and/or invasive/illegal weeds. Good plants die off as the goats eat them, and whatever is too evil to be eaten wins the evolutionary rat race and becomes dominant. I have spent a ridiculous amount of time pulling the deep taproot of poison hemlock out of the ground, and yet it is kicking my ass. Sooner or later I assume my entire property will be covered with venomous strangling vines and stinging nettle.

4) Mud. Hooves are the enemy of grass. I have seven or eight hoofed animals, and every one of them is doing it's level best to trample every bit of fertile soil I own into a quagmire. I have spent hundreds of dollars on hog fuel and injured my back trying to spread it over the most vulnerable areas, but nonetheless, greater and greater areas of my property are inexorably being converted into deep, sucking mud. The pig is especially destructive, rooting up turf and creating muddy wallows all over the main pasture. We have tried to confine him to his 12 x 20 foot pen, but he is an escape artist worthy of Houdini.

5) Parasites. Goats are particularly prone to worms, and without careful and aggressive management will become progressively overloaded with intestinal parasites. Resistance to common medications is a major problem. So far, my goats have not had serious parasite problems, but it's entirely likely that they will, and without access to high powered drugs, I don't know how I can continue to protect them.

6) Ignorance. I'm sure if I kept thinking about it, there are several things I could remunerate.
But I am a late-twentieth-century American and that means I am lazy, tired, overweight, and apathetic. God damn. I can't help but feel but that my best efforts are rather pathetic, judged by historical standards.

I know my brother will understand this - I swing between wildly opposed poles of feeling kind of absurdly proud of my accomlishments and feeling abjectly ashamed of how little I have managed to get done. It is actually very difficult to arrive at an objective judgement, and also probably irrelevant. How'd I do? I dunno, how many live grandchildren do you have?

Well, time marches on and I have to put my progeny to bed, because one thing I know for sure is that the little buggers need sleep if they are going to grow satisfactorily.

Some sage said that when in doubt, we should "do that duty that lies nearest." Right now I have to go feed my kids and put them to bed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mama Barn Mice, and an Ode to my Husband

My husband is a brave man. He possesses an enviable equanimity. He is not one to dwell on frightening possibilities - in fact, he's rather fatalistic in a very Mexican way. He is as unmoved by the thought of death as anyone I've ever met. He certainly isn't afraid of pain or hardship.

In his life, he has confronted danger and privation such as very few of us comfortable Americans have known. He has experienced thirst, hunger, and terrible uncertainty. He has been within a hairsbreadth of death by exposure, and lived many years as a hunted man, and yet maintained his sense of humor, his trust in God, and his joie de vivre. Offhand, I can't think of a single person I admire as much, nor anyone I'd rather have at my side should things ever go horribly, horribly wrong.

Yet, my husband is afraid of a couple of things. One of them is snakes. To be fair, he does come from a part of the world which abounds in poisonous snakes. However, I have not yet been able to convince him that garter snakes are harmless and that the the little girls should be allowed to play with them.

Also, he is afraid of mice.

Today, we were in the mama barn cleaning beehive frames (something it feels like we've been doing forever), when suddenly a couple of field mice crawled up out of one of the boxes. Homero startled, backed up, and dropped his hive tool. "Get it!" he said. "Get it out of here!"

The first one I easily grabbed by the tail and threw out of the barn, but the second and third were too fast for me and escaped into the stack of hive boxes. I spent a few minutes trying to catch them; moving box by box and scrambling around in the hay, but I couldn't get either of them. Homero, pale and a little shaky, said "I'm going to get the cat," and hightailed it for the house.

I kept working for a few more minutes, then decided to go see what was going on. My dear husband was in the kitchen washing dishes. "I couldn't find the cat," he said. "When you see him, lock him in the barn for a few days, okay?"

Monday, February 22, 2010

2010 Plant List (So Far)

The girls enjoy planting some seeds on this unseasonable warm and sunny afternoon.


4) hazelnut trees
4) apple trees
1) cherry tree
1) plum tree
1) spruce tree (not part of the orchard but still, a tree)

this is, of course, in addition to the fruit trees we already have: three pears, an apple, a cherry and a plum. If I can keep all these trees alive, I think they will amply provide for our fruit related needs.


snap peas

I want to plant more potatoes, but other than that, I'm done for a month or two, until it's time to buy warm-weather starts and direct sow warmer-weather crops. I plan on growing tomatoes, chiles, summer squash, and pumpkins. Homero wants tomatillos, cilantro, green onions, and maybe corn. We have a friendly rivalry going. He won't read any gardening books or listen to a word I say (he wanted to direct sow tomato seed, the silly man) so we have a bet going on whose garden will do better. The stakes are what we always bet: foot massages.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Things I Don't Understand

1) Why the chickens are not laying eggs. A few weeks ago, we decided to put the chickens into a coop because we weren't getting very many eggs. Since then, we've been getting no eggs at all. Before you suggest it, yes, I let the chickens back out and still got almost no eggs at all. Put them back in so at least we would know whether they were not laying or laying but hiding eggs in the blackberries. They aren't laying. I'm feeding twenty chickens and getting two eggs a day. Why?

2) Why I can't figure out how to cook a farm chicken and make it edible. In light of the rediculous feed:egg ratio, we decided to kill a few roosters today (note to self: later, post pics and praise Rowan highly for doing her part). This time, we picked the very youngest roosters, neither more than four months old. Same result: tough, inedible, rubbery flesh in a grimy broth. Happy dogs, unhappy people.

3) Why I even have chickens at all.

4) How to clean up beehive frames and put together a beehive. It seems simple when you read about it in a book. There are only four or five parts to a beehive, none of them moving parts (until you put the bees in, anyway.) Why can't I figure it out? Today I scraped down about thirty frames and tried to sort my big jumble of equipment into recognizable bits: bases, boxes, lids, queen excluders, feeders..... I just got hot and confused.

5) Why the beeswax won't melt. When I scraped the frames, I scraped them into a big cardboard box. Beeswax is really nice stuff, and expensive, too. Of course, the crap I was scraping off the frames wasn't nice clean wax, but rather blackened, hardened lumps full of dead bees. However, I figured it was at least worth a shot to try to save it, beeswax being so valuable and all. I dumped it all into the top of a double boiler and it's been simmering away on the stove (along with the hideous chicken soup) for hours. No melting yet. I planned to sieve the melted wax through a triple layer of cheesecloth, but I can't do that if it WON'T MELT.

6) Why in God's name there's no beer in the house.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The First Day of Spring

Forsythia in full bloom in Bellingham

I'm going to go ahead and call it: Today was the first day of spring in Bellingham, WA. The mercury got up to 58 degrees and the sky was bright blue without a hint of cloud. When I got into my car in the afternoon, it was actually hot. I saw no fewer than three girls in short-shorts (although this IS a university town).

My snap peas are coming up. They are at the "bow" stage - a loop of stem is visible above the dirt but no leaves are up. Radishes have also germinated. The goats are looking very extremely pregnant. The roosters are leaping on the hens with mad abandon. Ornamental fruit trees are in bloom - very nearly full bloom.

My own fruit trees are not near blooming yet - I'd say two weeks, even with continued warm weather. That's fine by me - I don't want a late frost to kill the blossoms and destroy the harvest. Ha Ha - I say "late frost" in mid February. That's not really very funny, but I've decided I'm going to laugh instead of lay awake freaking out.

I opened up my (secondhand) beehives and have started to clean out the dead bees and scrape down the frames. The bees I ordered are arriving in April, so I want everything ready ahead of time. I'm not sure what I need to do with the hives - some of the frames are moldy. If I were to follow my instinct I'd scrape those down to the wood and treat them with boiling water or a propane torch. But I just don't know.

Right now the hives are in the Mama Barn, and I need to get them out of there before the goats are due to deliver, because they take up most of the space. I'm not even sure when the goats are due - if the buck I rented is the papa, then they aren't due until mid April. However, Iris at least looks ready to pop way before then. Her udder is pretty big, her belly is gigantic, and her spine is looking pretty prominent around the tailbone. Oh well - Iris is an experienced mama and has given birth without trouble twice before now. If she gives birth out in the field I don't doubt she will do fine and take care of her kids.

I'm glad it's spring, even if it's frighteningly early. I really enjoyed being out today, digging in the dirt, herding the goats and the ponies around, and generally enjoying myself in the sun. If my brother can call the first day of spring as the day his baseball team reports for spring training, then surely I can report the first day of spring as the day my daffodils opened.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Garden Update, and Growing What You Love

Raspberries might be my favorite fruit. Certainly, they are my favorite fruit that grows around here. Pomegranates might edge out raspberries as my very favorite, but they don't bear within five hundred miles of here, so they don't count. Raspberries are my favorite fruit that I can grow on my own property.

Raspberries were, in fact, the very first fruit I planted when I moved in here. Unfortunately, I underestimated the amount of work necessary to maintain even a few canes, and they were quickly outperformed by the blackberries and the thistles. A few of those canes survive, but they have by no means turned into the thriving patch I envisioned, a patch that could keep my family in raspberry jam from September until February every year. Alas.

Luckily, an old friend of mine recently came up to visit, and she brought me a pot of raspberry canes. Today, I planted them in the raised bed on the north side of the house, a bed which used to house an enormous rosemary bush which was sadly killed by the record cold snap of 2008. I dug out the dead rosemary and replaced it with the raspberry canes. I hope they do well there - raspberries have a reputation as being fickle and sensitive. In my experience, that isn't true, and they grow like weeds wherever you plant them, but I admit my experience is very limited. The few canes I planted back in Ballard did just great and multiplied to the extent that my neighbors were annoyed by the canes growing up in their lawn every spring.

In any case, I have high hopes for my raspberries. I also planted one bathtub today. If you remember, I bought a couple of old clawfoot tubs off Craigslist last fall with the intention of using them as planters. One of them has had the drain welded shut (something I did not think to check) and so is only good for catching rainwater, unless my husband can somehow cut through the weld. But the other one is fine.

Yesterday I had Homero help me prop it up on a half-dozen bricks and then I filled the bottom layer with rocks (to provide drainage). Then I put in a four inch layer of compost and a four inch layer of topsoil. Then I planted two pounds of red potatoes, and in the top layer above the potatoes I planted spinach and radishes. I figure by the time the potato shoots are up and need to be layered, the spinach and radishes will be harvestable. Then I can cover the potatoes and plant a new crop of pole beans or summer squash on top.

This is all new and experimental. I am far from being the world's greatest gardener, so we'll just have to see how it turns out.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Rather Terrifying News

A new report in the journal Science by an international panel of scientists warns that in the next 50 years, crop yields of various staple crops, including wheat, are expected to decline by 20 - 30 percent across the entire tropical and sub tropical zones of the planet - home to half of humanity. This is due to mean average growing season temperatures rising above 86 degrees Fahrenheit, a kind of upper limit for many crops. During the same time period, world population is expected to grow to somewhere over 9 billion. The group is "urging world leaders to dramatically alter their notions about sustainable agriculture to prevent a major starvation catastrophe by the end of this century among the more than 3 billion people who live relatively close to the equator."

I don't have the studies to show you, but I've read newspaper reports that a large percentage of California's central valley, historically one of the most productive agricultural areas on the planet, is no longer suitable for orchards. Fruit and nut trees are failing to bear because they no longer undergo the necessary chill in winter to make them go dormant. Some nut crops, if I remember right, are down more than 80%.
Having just planted a number of fruit trees which were specifically selected for my climate, I can't help but wonder if perhaps I should have planted some trees that were selected for a slightly different climate. Maybe I should be planting trees that are on the very northernmost edge of their range here - things like grapes, kiwis, peaches, and figs.

Below I have posted an excerpted version of the article ... to read the entire thing, go to http://www.sciencedaily.com

"I grow increasingly concerned that we have not yet understood what it will take to feed a growing population on a warming planet," said Federoff (science and technology advisor to Hilary Clinton), who also is a biology professor at Pennsylvania State University.

The challenge is becoming more difficult, the scientists said, because the world's population is likely to have increased more than 30 percent, to 9 billion people, by 2050.

Even without climate change, feeding all of these people will require doubling the grain production in the tropics, Battisti said, but a warmer climate will reduce yields because the temperature will be too high to achieve the most efficient photosynthesis. That factor, combined with less rainfall in major food-producing regions and increasing pressure from pests and pathogens, is likely to cut major food crop yields a minimum of 20 percent to 30 percent.


Battisti noted that the so-called green revolution in agriculture produced a 2 percent increase in yields per year for 20 years, primarily through development of new grain varieties and use of fertilizer and irrigation. But there is little, if any, new land available for farming, and such yield increases cannot be sustained without further innovation. In addition, there already are 1 billion people, mostly in the tropics, who do not have enough food for a healthy life.

"We're really asking for yield gains comparable to those at the peak of the green revolution, but sustained for an unprecedented length of time, 40 years, and at a time when climate change is acting against us," he said.


By combining direct observations with data from 23 global climate models that contributed to Nobel prize-winning research in 2007, Battisti and Naylor determined there is greater than a 90 percent probability that by 2100 the lowest growing-season temperatures in the tropics and subtropics will be higher than any temperatures recorded there to date.

They used the data as a filter to view historic instances of severe food insecurity, and concluded such instances are likely to become more commonplace. Those include severe episodes in France in 2003 and the Ukraine in 1972. In the case of the Ukraine, a near-record heat wave reduced wheat yields and contributed to disruptions in the global cereal market that lasted two years. "I think what startled me the most is that when we looked at our historic examples there were ways to address the problem within a given year. People could always turn somewhere else to find food," Naylor said. "But in the future there's not going to be any place to turn unless we rethink our food supplies."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tree Count Through the Roof, and a Future Full of Fruit

The trees I ordered from Trees of Antiquity arrived. There were six: four apples, a cherry and a greengage plum. Additionally, I found a lady on Craigslist with several native hazelnuts for sale Apparently her neighbor has a gigantic 50 year old hedge and it has been sending up seedlings in her yard forever. I got five trees from her, and a couple of them were over twelve feet tall. All for twenty bucks, yahoo!

I'm not sure if I can take credit for these trees or not: Homero actually planted them. He hasn't had much work lately and so he's been catching up on farmwork. I sure appreciate it - planting eleven trees is no joke. I could have done it, but it would have taken me a hell of a lot longer and I would have been hurting a lot more seriously afterward.

The orchard really looks great now. It occupies a space about thirty feet wide by eighty feet long, adjacent to the eastern property line and running from the backyard out to the horse's pen. In that space are now eighteen trees, more or less in six rows of three, all semi-dwarfs. That leaves plenty of room to add in a tree here or there as the fever takes us. I can't imagine we will ever want more than twenty trees, assuming they all stay healthy.

Maybe I can see adding another nut tree - a walnut or two. I do love walnuts. But the six hazels theoretically ought to be enough to provide us with both nuts (highly storable protein) and oil (hard to come by here in the lands north of olive country and for smallholders without equipment to deal with canola or something like that). And now I have five apple trees, which likewise is theoretically enough to provide all our apple needs, from eating out of hand to drying, applesauce, and cider.

Our other fruit needs should be met by two cherries, three pears, two plums, and acres of wild blackberries. Within a mile of us we can get raspberries and blueberries in unlimited quantities.

I plan to put the beehives right smack dab in the middle of the orchard.

On the phenology front, at top is a picture of some adorable yellow crocuses I saw in Bellingham last Tuesday. My own crocuses are not yet up, but I am twenty miles north of Bellingham and at a higher elevation.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Poppy Pony Goes to School

I am the first to admit, I know very little about training horses. Okay, virtually nothing. But according to the advice I've been given by my farrier and by various other horsey-type people, until a horse is two years old or so, training consists mostly of introducing them to all sorts of stimuli so they are not spooky, and of getting them habituated to being touched all over, groomed, et cetera. And of course learning to walk on a lead and to load in a tailer, and that sort of thing.

Since Poppy will be a riding pony, I decided it was time to get her used to having stuff on her back. She is such a sweet, even tempered pony, it only took her about two minutes for her to decide that this blanket wasn't going to hurt her. She grazed peacefully while I put it on and took it off, waved it around, and generally did everything I could think of.

Then I put Paloma on her back. She really didn't seem to care at all, or even notice. However, Paloma is not such a great balancer, so I took her down after only a minute or so.

I love ponies.

Monday, February 8, 2010

New Coop

Every spring, the chickens destroy the seedlings in the garden. Every spring, the chickens start running around and laying their eggs all over hell and gone where we can't find them. Every spring, I say we need a coop - not forever, just for springtime, until the garden is well established and the chickens are trained to lay their eggs in one place. Then they can come out and be free-range again.

Today, Homero built the coop. We used the spot between the two barns that used to be the alpaca catch-pen, back when we still had alpacas. This space has the advantage of already being fenced and roofed - all he had to do was cut a man-sized door in the fence and wrap the whole enclosure in chicken wire.
Here he has built a small shelf out of scrap wood and placed all the nest boxes on it. The chickens are used to roosting in the nest boxes because we don't have any good roosts for them in the barn - which means that the eggs are often poopy and gross. We hope we have solved this problem by building some roosts. The coolest roost is visible behind Homero: a length of broken ladder, set up to lie flat and the rungs provide the roosts. Also, a twelve foot dowel, also scavenged from something else.

I have often castigated Homero for the gigantic pile of scrapwood he has behind his shop. And I do mean gigantic: it is perhaps four feet high by four feet wide by thirty feet long. It's dangerous - nails stick out willy-nilly - and ugly and provides an ideal home for rats and snakes and God knows what else. Plus, when combined with the twelve or fourteen cars on the place in various states of disrepair, it makes us look like .... well, like Mexicans.

I know - I know. But sometimes the truth hurts, y'all.

However, today the scrap pile came in very handy. We have a new chicken coop and we didn't buy anything but a roll of chicken wire.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I am NOT afraid of bees

My new mantra. I am NOT afraid of bees, I am NOT afraid of bees, I am NOT afraid of bees....

Actually, I really am not terribly afraid of bees. Wasps, yes. Yellow jackets, paper wasps, hornets... I am totally and abjectly terrified of those things. But honeybees and bumblebees are nothing to be afraid of. They aren't aggressive, they are beautiful, and everything they do is beneficial to us. In fact, we likely couldn't survive without them.

Which, as I'm sure y'all already know, is a big big problem, because they are disappearing fast. Some ideas are beginning to emerge regarding Colony Collapse Disorder (ARS : Questions and Answers: Colony Collapse Disorder) and the research tends to implicate certain pesticides as well as mites and other diseases. But definitive answers are still far away, and certainly a cure is nowhere on the immediate horizon.

CCD has not been a major problem where I live, so far. I hope that it will not affect ..... my NEW BEEHIVES!!!!!! Yes, it's true. I decided not to wait another year but to bite the bullet, gird up my loins, put on my big-girl panties (pick your silly metaphor) and order some bees. I asked on Craigslist for a mentor, and found a nice guy who lives just down the road and is happy to help me get started. I have to clean out my old hives (which I bought off Craigslist a few months ago) and get them in shape to accept my bees, which should arrive in late March or early April.

Today is my trial by fire - the neighbor is going to open up his own hives and check things out and he invited me to come watch. I have a hat with a veil and long gloves, but I need a set of zip-up coveralls. I'll be very very proud of myself if I get through today without a galloping case of willies. Or at least if I can keep the willies under wraps. Like, not scream like a little girl and run away. I think I can hold myself to that standard.

Unless a bee gets inside my face veil.

Friday, February 5, 2010

My Personal Tree Count

I've planted a fair number of trees in my life so far. I planted one today. I decided I'd like to try to remember all of them and make a list.

As an American born in the last quarter of the 20th century, I am well aware that I could not possibly offset my carbon output, no matter how many trees I planted. Most likely, I could have spent my entire life from birth planting a tree per minute and still not come close to matching my consumption. So let's just not go there, okay?

I just like trees. Long before climate change was ever on my radar - say, 1981, when I was nine years old, to pick an arbitrary date - I was into planting trees. My mom, God bless her, always insisted on live Christmas trees, so we planted at least one tree a year as far back as I can remember. During the years that I lived in the city, I refused to have a Christmas tree at all, since I didn't have a place to plant a live one. Instead, we made gingerbread houses or painted christmas trees on butcher paper and taped them up on the wall (Now I know that there are Parks Department programs that will plant your live, donated tree in a park).

Nearly the very first thing that happened when I bought my first house, on a medium sized city lot, is that my Mom gave me a gift of two apple trees to plant in the back yard ( that makes 2). Those trees are alive and well, though sorely in need of pruning, and putting out large amounts of apples year after year.

I lived in that house for fifteen years, and during that time I planted (in addition to the apples) a cherry tree, a plum tree, and a pear tree. All of those trees are alive and bearing. The cherry (a Bing) gives an immense and delicious harvest of about fifty pounds a year. Man, I miss that tree (total of 5).

When we bought the Ham road property, again, the first thing we did is plant fruit trees. I was just out there the other day, and alas, two out of three fruit trees have died, but one of the cherries is still alive (six). Also, we planted a Christmas tree there two years ago. I can't remember what kind of tree it is, but I know it's some kind of fir native to the area. It's alive (seven).

This property that we live on now is - as I think I have mentioned - seriously lacking in trees. We planted a small orchard as soon as we could. Alas, the goats killed many of the trees, but the survivors include an apple, two cherries, a plum, three pears, and a big hazelnut bush which I am counting as a tree (fourteen).

Today I planted this past year's Christmas tree - a Korean fir (fifteen).

I can't count them yet, because I haven't planted them and I don't know how many might survive, but there are six fruit trees coming in the mail which I will plant this spring. God willing they all live and that will make twenty.


Note: these images were gathered from the web: none of them is an actual picture of my own actual trees.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Photos I like

This post has nothing to do with the farm.

I am an artist, but I am NOT a photographer. I'm a painter and a poet. However, recently, I've been taking a lot of pictures (thank you, dear husband, for the iPhone), and here are a few that I like a lot.

I don't have a lot of trees on the property; in fact I think this tree - a copper beech - and the antique pear are the only mature trees we have. Unfortunately, this tree is too close to the road to be a good climbing tree or a good candidate for a fort. Here the kids are climbing, but I would not let them if I weren't right there.

I can't even remember where this is. I think it's on a walking path above the Columbia river in Hood River, Oregon. I went to visit my best friend a couple weeks ago, and we went for a walk.

This is a view of Lake Samish near my sister's house in the early morning in January, 2010. Absolutely gorgeous. The view from my house is rather conventionally stunning: mountains, snow, et cetera., but the view near her place is also extremely pretty.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

It's Called "Phenology!"

I knew I knew that word! Welcome to Project BudBurst is a super cool site that allows anyone to participate in recording thye timing of the seasons in their area, which allows scientists to track climate change in real time. It's simple, and even if you don't care to be an amateur phenologist, the site is supremely interesting.

May 1, 2008 — Researchers began a nationwide initiative to track climate change by recording the timing of the first bud, first flower, and seed dispersal for plants across the country. They encouraged people to record information in their own neighborhoods and plan to compile those findings to build a comprehensive record of the changing climate.

Could the emergence of spring provide clues to climate change? Some researchers think so and now, you can be part of the scientific process studying global warming, just by observing what's blooming in your own backyard.

This spring, there may be more to those buds and blossoms in your backyard than meets the eye. The timing of when plants bud or flower is changing and nature's calendar is getting warmer earlier. While studying climate change, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. is recruiting volunteers across the country to monitor their back yards.

"Scientists can't be everywhere," Sandra Henderson, Ph.D., a science educator at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., told Ivanhoe. "We need these extra sentinel eyes on the landscape, if you will."

Henderson spearheads Project BudBurst. "Well, it may not seem like a lot when a plant blooms earlier or later. What the plant does is it starts giving us clues to the climate. When you start tracking this long-term we can see when those changes occur," she explained.

Botanists anxiously await Project BudBurst's findings. "I think there's validity to that if you are willing to look at it over the long term and things are very different from one season to the next, but it's really averages you have to consider," Dan Johnson, curator of native plant collections at the Denver Botanic Gardens in Denver, Colo., told Ivanhoe. Volunteers record weekly data online. "Project Budburst allows individuals an opportunity to learn more about climate change through participation," Dr. Henderson said.

Project budburst will be repeated year after year, so volunteers will build their own archive of evidence from their own backyard.

PROJECT BUDBURST: Participants choose a plant or plants to observe, then begin checking their plants at least a week before the date of the average budburst. They are looking for the point at which the buds have opened to reveal visible leaves. Participants report that data, and continue to observe the plant for other events such as first leaf, first flower, and also seed dispersal. Project BudBurst takes the records that participants input, then creates maps of these events across the United States.

WHAT IS PHENOLOGY? The science of phenology is the study of the timing of the life cycle of plants and animals. It focuses on establishing how and why plants and animals undertake processes at certain times of the year, for example when to hibernate, flower, and reproduce. Phenology has a long and distinguished history. In Japan and China, cherry and peach blossom festivals extend back more than a thousand years.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Signs of Spring: February 2010

On a ten minute walk today around my daughter's school in Bellingham, I took the following pictures:
Leaves breaking out on some sort of willowy-looking bush

A lot of bulbs beginning to sprout

New mint sprigs from an old patch

Fruit tree blossoms ready to pop.

Driving around later I saw several trees which have already popped. As far as I could tell, they were ornamentals, which is a good thing. If we get another week or two of warm weather and then a hard frost, it will do terrible things to this year's tree-fruit crop.