Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Beans, Blossoms and Bugs

Warm weather over the weekend brought out the first flowers and really made it feel like summer at last. The strawberries are really looking good, they are in full bloom now under their protective netting.
The first Pea blossoms opened yesterday, and the plants are loaded with buds so I know more will be coming soon. These are the ones I got as starts from Dave, the second batch I planted from seed is only a few inches high - it'll be a while before they bloom, but they are looking really good too.

The Rosemary I planted in the fence flowerbed is in full bloom now, and wonder of wonders, the asparagus I planted way too early (in February!) has actually come up. Granted it's really thin and little (compare the asparagus stalk to the rosemary leaves) but I had given up hope it would even sprout. However, it looks like 6 out of the 8 roots I planted made it, yay!

The beans I planted last Saturday all came up, in unison, yesterday. It was amazing to see how much they grew from the morning when they were just starting to poke through the soil, all bent over and still in their seed casings, to the afternoon when they stood stiffly upright with their little leaves proudly unfurled.

Here's another surprise, the bleeding heart I planted at the same time as the asparagus not only came up but actually flowered. I just "found" it on Sunday, already in full bloom in its shady little nook in the tree island. Good thing I didn't miss it entirely!

This Calendula overwintered at the corner of the house, survived an early spring weed-whacking, and is now covered with big yellow daisy-like flowers, occasionally hosting yellow hunting spiders like this one.
The wildflowers are also beginning to bloom, such as this wild red columbine growing at the edge of the bushes behind the pergola.
Deeper in the shady parts of the woods, the False Lily-of-the-Valley (maianthemum dilatatum) is in full bloom. This is one of my favorite wild places on the property. I don't have a real path to it yet, but I make a point to scramble through the thimbleberries, alders, blackberries and tall grass every few weeks just to admire the lush and beautiful green of the leaves, moss and ferns.

Today, however, the tranquility was shattered by the scolding of several small birds who really didn't approve of the fact that the cats had accompanied me on my walk (as they often do when the weather is nice). They must have a nest or two in the vicinity; I'll give them a little time to raise their babies in peace and safety before I go back to visit my spot again. I guess my maternal empathy is starting to kick in!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Four Cats Farm

I'm excited to report that the first (of many) steps in converting our field into an orchard has been completed! A nice fellow named Mike answered my ad on Craigslist for someome with a tractor, disc, and plow. He came out and met with me last Saturday morning and we talked about what I wanted done. He thought the earliest he'd be able to get to it would be next tuedsay, so I was really surprised to find he'd been here yesterday afternoon and done the job already!
The ground was a little wet still, but it went pretty well, about 70% of the sod has been cut loose in most areas. Discing is always a multi-step process, so Mike will come back in about 2 weeks and go over this again, then it will really be broken up and I will hopefully be able to rake in a cover crop to grow over the summer. Then he'll come back in the fall and disc in that crop, and probably also plow up the planting rows where the trees will go. I'm thinking 10 foot aisles between 5 foot planting strips. It's a big field - here's a shot fromt he bottom (house end) of the field looking up the driveway towards the neighbor's place.

There's room for a lot of trees & bushes here! I want to plant a variety of things. Half a dozen apples, a couple pears, asian pears, plums, pluots, hazelnuts and cherries should get us started this year, then we'll keep filling in more trees every year in the planting rows until we run out of space. I want to get some more exotic fruits and berries going over there too: Goumi, Aronia, Sea Buckthorn, Mulberry, Pawpaw, Quince, Shipova, and even some Elderberries that have been bred for fruit size, flavor and quality in Eastern Europe. (I spend way too much time reading the RainTree catalog.)

Also, we are now officially licenced as the sole proprietors of Four Cats Farm! I got some good advice from my boss Luis, that we should get a business licence now, before we lay out any capital for this project, so we can deduct all our expenses from our taxes. The business is certain to lose money for the first several years, and who knows if will ever be more than a hobby, but I have daydreamed about selling produce at the farmers market someday. I wouldn't have thought to get a business lincense until I actually had some product to sell, but luckily Luis talked me through it - it really does make sense.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Telltale Heart

Today we went in for our first full-fledged pre-natal checkup with the midwife, and we got to hear the heartbeat! It was so cool. Our baby has a heart! It beats a fast whub-whub-whub-whub-whub and we could hear it loud and clear on the speaker and suddenly this is so much more REAL than it was before. Woo!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Saturday Sunshine

It's an absolutely beautiful day. I worked outside in the garden all morning until I wore myself out, so I decided after lunch I'd take some pictures instead of working . :) Of course, now I'm tired again... might be time for a nap in the hammock!

The biggest project this morning was building a bean tipi. I cut down and limbed 8 saplings, wired them together at the top, and pressed the bottoms into the dirt several inches. I planted "black seeded yard-long" pole beans on the tipi. I've never grown this variety before, but somehow I ended up with a seed packet, probably picked it up for free at a trade show. Next to the tipi are a couple rows of bush yellow wax beans as well. It feels good to have my beans in, finally!

In the backgound behing the bean tipi, you can see some of the greens and chard I planted earlier. They are doing extremely well, after all the rain we've had they are loving the sunshine. The Pak Choi is especially lovely:

I also planted the center bed with several of the wedding favor seed packets that we had left over. I put the wedding plaque that my cousin Heather and her family gave to us in the middle of the bed. Aw.

The gooseberries are doing great, as you can see below. They are covered in tiny (difficult to photograph!) green berries, and have lots of new growth. The tasty and underappreciated berries appear to be a real winner in our yard, we'll have to put in a few more plants.

Lest this all seem a little too idyllic, Sanford brought home a young bunny for his lunch. This is the second one (that I know of) so far this spring. He's quite proud of his hunting prowess and seems to enjoy showing off his kills, so naturally he decided to eat this one under the picnic table.
I'm just glad he kept it outside.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Keeley's Starts

I've been meaning for a while now to mention how generous Keeley's been with her garden starts. I got a whole tray of them from her a couple weeks ago (pictured above) which I planted out in the garden this past weekend. And then just the other day she e-mailed and offered me more! So now I have another little batch to plant this weekend, plus I'm in line for some tomatoes, peppers and eggplant once the weather warms up reliably.

All the plants in the garden are doing really well. Starts are such a wonderful gift. Thanks again, Keeley! You rock. I'll pay you back in salad later this summer! :)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

New Entertainment Center

As part of the preparation for the baby, we decided to move the TV into the living room. (The TV room will become the baby's room.) But since we'd both hate to just have the TV staring at us all the time, we decided we should get an entertainment cabinet with doors that would cover the TV when it was not in use. So a couple weeks ago I started hunting for such a thing on Bellingham's Craigslist. At first I was pretty disappointed with the selection, almost everything available was that really generic oak-with-brass-trim style, which I really don't like. I also didn't want anything with glass doors - the whole point is to HIDE what's inside, right? But after just a short time looking I found one that I really liked. We are now the owners of this well made, sturdy, walnut entertainment center: It was made by Morewood & Yager which is a small southwestern furniture manufacturer in Tucson, AZ. Actually, from their website it looks like the store is in Tucson; they make their furniture in Mexico, but it's their own factory and very nicely crafted. It's a pretty impressive peice of furniture, and it's in sweet condition. We paid $250 for it, which was a little more than I had intended to spend on an entertainment cupboard, but considering the regular price for the same unit on the manufacturer's site is over $2000 I think we got a great deal.

As you can see from the picture it's pretty large, it fits on this wall but just barely. I'm giving it a little time in this spot to see if I get used to it there, but I'm thinking it may need to go in the corner where the turtle's tank is now. Which of course would then mean moving the tank, couch, the table, and so on... whew. Eventually we'll get it all settled and then move the TV, etc. into its new home. Once that is done I can start turning the upstairs room into a nursery - I can't wait!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Strawberries, Catnip & Mushrooms

We accomplished a lot of different projects this past weekend. Here are some of the highlights: First, I'm really glad to have a protective net over the strawberry planter: Not only will it protect our not-too-far-off strawberries from the birds, it will keep the cats out of the planter. It had been getting a bit too much feline attention lately.

Speaking of cats, we also planted them a catnip patch. It is protected by an old wire freezer basket, turned upside down and staked at the corner with tent stakes. The idea is that the cats can nibble the parts of the plants that grow out past the protective cage, but they won't be able to uproot the plants or chew them all the way down to the soil.
There are three plants under the cage. The middle one got caught out in the open and seriously chewed before we planted it, but I think it will recover.

The biggest project was to innoculate a mushroom log. We bought a bag of 100+ Shiitake spawn dowels from Cascadia Mushrooms at the farmers market a couple of weeks ago. While there were a few trees that came down on our place this past winter, after reading the instructions we learned that you are supposed to innoculate a log within 6 weeks, to avoid the possibility that some other fungi got there first. So we decided to cut down a new tree for our mushroom patch. We chose an aspen near the rope swing, in a shady area on the north side of a thick patch of trees and bushes, but where we can easily get to it for harvesting and tending.

After cutting down the tree, we proped the log up off the ground a few inches with some concrete chunks from our rock pile. The instructions say to do this to keep bugs from getting into the log. Then we started drilling holes - lots of holes! Into each hole we pounded one of the innoculated dowels. Then we sealed over each dowel with tree-heal, which keeps the moisture in and prevents other microbes from getting inside. The idea is to get the spores into the wood while keeping the bark more or less intact. This is what the finished log looks like:
The black spots are the tree-heal latex pruning sealant. When we cut the tree down, it broke into two peices. Our bag of dowels was only enough to do one peice of the tree, so we are thinking we might get another kind of mushroom to do the second log - maybe oyster mushrooms. For now we just left the second log lying alongside the shiitake log.
It will take anywhere from 6 months to two years before we get a crop of mushrooms on our log. But when we do, MMMM! It will be worth the wait. :)