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Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Neglected Garden

Do you think your garden is looking a bit neglected? Has it got away from you on account of life getting in the way? Do you see pictures of perfect rows of bountiful produce, marching in unison across a lovely, weed-free ground and sigh, convinced that your garden will never be "good enough?"

Well, stop right there and let's take a virtual visit to my garden through photos I took today. 

We finally have had some rain, enough to make it not only possible but easy and actually FUN to pull weeds! And as you will see, I need to spend lots of time out there, doing just that! 
But, you know, life is still happening. I have a huge backlog of order for hex signs to complete, I am finally getting my act in gear and attempting -- with support and instruction from a neighbor -- to complete a project to put vinyl composite tile that I snagged for free a couple of years ago, on the back porch floor. I should hate to admit it, but the porch flooring project -- starting with adding 3/4" plywood over the original underlayment after removing the carpet that was originally there -- started 6 years ago. This year it WILL get done. But we still need to eat, so out to the garden we go.

This will give you a good idea of the status of the garden. Thanks to the paper feed sack weed block in the walkways, at least I DO know where the rows are supposed to be! You can't tell much from this image, left of the first two rows I began attempting to weed soon after the beginning of the rainy spell. The row on the left was seeded to lettuces (a few barely visible lower left) and carrots. The ones at the far end of the bed failed to germinate but as I weed toward the lettuces, I am beginning to find tiny carrot seedlings hidden in the much larger, dense grass. Fortunately, I do not mind "fine weeding" in this situation. It is
use time consuming and requires much care. A couple of hot days dried the soil enough that I had to let this bit go for a while and move on to other projects, as I was just pulling the tops off the grass plants. The bed on the right in the photo above was planted to beets with some germination, as you can see in the image on the right. I soaked the remainder of my beet seeds overnight and re-seeded the portion that I had managed to weed day before yesterday and will keep an eye on them, irrigating if needed. I have a friend who looks forward to my supplying her with beets each year, and with any luck we will both get some.

When I was out in the garage recently, I unearthed a mostly full bag of diatomaceous earth. I had read that one could dust potato plants "liberally" with the stuff to help with the potato bug problem. While I am not inclined to use chemical sprays, I am comfortable using DE, so I made a larger shaker, filled it up and
took to the potato beds last evening. I was a little short of the stuff to treat them all, so I have a "control group" of about 16 plants at the end of one bed that were not treated. As I walked the beds, dusting, I also squished any bugs (larvae) that I found. We had a wee bit of dampness last night and a brief shower while I was working in the garden today, but not enough to remove the stuff from the plants. I have not checked for bugs yet today, but I will this evening, as this is a once a day routine here in potato bug season.
Looking at these images , do you see a theme here?? No soil to be seen... and no, it is not especially deliberate. but I am not in panic mode either!
 When I got to the end of the first potato bed last evening, I continued down into the area where the vine crops are planted, doing some rough weeding to remove the taller hogweed and lambs quarters and once they were out, pulling the grasses that were up close to the hills. Eventually I will need to go back and work more on the grasses... or try to smother them some with spent hay. The vines like to have the soil kept moist.

The project of the day, though, was getting the tomato plants excavated from the sea of weeds (hogweed, lambs quarters
and grass) and securing them to the strings I added to their support system. I had to improvise a bit because, in the chaos from both the back porch project and the multiple signs I am painting, the
official tomato clips (left) have vanished. I looked in all the likely places in both house (where I think they are hiding) and garage, but it needed doing NOW, so I improvised with one of the
more useful and inexpensive homestead solutions: cable ties! I dislike using single use plastics, but in this case, it seemed a reasonable compromise. Look closely, they are GREEN. Not my favorite choice of color for things in the garden, especially things that I need to FIND again (like these things, to make sure I did not tighten them too much and to easily remove at the end of the season). I would have preferred red, or even blue... but green was what I found when I went hunting.

So now you know; my garden is far from weed-free and will remain so even once I get the "weeding" done. While I have no proof of this, it seems to me that having other plants in and around your target species (aka food) might help confuse some of the bugs or have other benfits that we have not noticed. I have, in the length of time we have been here (going on 12 years next month) declared war on bindweed (wild morning glory) as they are most invasive and do not play well with others. It has worked, and now I seldom see one! Of course it gets pulled immediately. I do wish I could figure as good a solution for the runner grasses, though.

Encouragement for Newish Gardeners

Every morning, I go out to the potato patch to hunt down potato bugs of all sizes -- from mature, potential egg layers to just hatched babies the size of a grain of sand and everyone in between, and search for the bright yellow egg clusters under the leaves, to pick and remove those leaves and eggs. I do not want to spray, even with products approved for use in organic gardens. I may be a fanatic, but in my world, manual control of pests and weeds is the best method all around.

While I was working, looking at my weedy, struggling garden and thinking about the crazy weather we have been having, my mind was also drawn to consider how many new gardeners have sprung up this year and how many folks have enlarged their garden plots, in attempts to become more resilient in the face of supply chain issues, among many reasons. And I have to say "Y'all picked a heck of a year to do this!"

I know we never have any control over the weather, but I am very glad this is not even close to my first rodeo. I am struggling and my garden is struggling and I have well over 50 years of growing stuff under my belt (and that does not even come close to counting the little toy chicks from an early Easter basket that I planted in my folks garden as a very young girl!). I have grown food in more states than many folks have even visited, and in conditions from optimal back yards to corners tucked in next to single level apartments to balconies and even just window sills when I was stuck in the city.  And I have never struggled like I am this year.

Our first lettuce
of 2020!
So my words of encouragement going out to you all are these: be thankful for whatever you manage to grow! And don't let failure get you down for long; certainly don't let it set you off trying to grow stuff. Keep trying, keep replanting. Talk to the gardeners around you, connect with the Master Gardeners associated with your county extension office (they all have one) and keep notes if you are at all organized.

Notes don't have to be detailed, but just writing when you plant, when you replant and why, maybe a bit about the weather and when you harvest -- or when your plants succumb to the fall frosts -- will help you build your personal knowledge base to move forward.

Here at hex central under the sign of the fussing duck, we had a very late "spring" so nothing got planted even close to when I usually do -- or when the charts based on "average last frost date" suggested. Yes, there were frosts, later than usual but the main issue was cold, wet soil. That means soil that cannot be turned properly and seeds that, if planted, lay there and rot.

So my peas and the other early crops were late. When done "right" (that is when the temperature and weather and soil and gardener are all in sync with the charts LOL) we have our first small picking of peas for July 4 here. This year, though I know a friend nearby who pulled it off, just barely, ours had to not only fight weather and timing, but got hit multiple times by hungry deer.

I put up three rows of electric fence wire around the garden. One at the actual garden perimeter has 3 strands. About 3' out from that is one that has 4 strands and the outermost one has 5. Unfortunately, rain and health issues slowed our work to electrify the outermost fence and the deer discovered almost immediately that they could just push it down/over and come in to eat. Repeatedly. They did not eat the plants down to the ground, but as they are growing back, I am not sure if I will end up needing the trellis for them to climb on this year! At least they *are* growing back, blossoming and now, in July, beginning to set pods! And, at this point, the fence is holding and our unseasonably high temperatures seem to have moderated into a cool, damp spell, which the peas like, so I am feeling positive about getting a crop.

At the same time, since my goal is to supply all of our year's vegetables (I actually produce about 95% of the fresh, canned and frozen veg that we use in a year) I am thankful that I still have some packages frozen from last year's bountiful crop.

If increasing your food resilience, to use the current parlance, is your goal as well, I also suggest that as you gain experience and skill, that you begin to plant more than you will use in a year. Not only does this hedge the bets against poor germination, predators and such on the fresh eating side, it also allows you to put by extra, or to have extra to share or trade with friends. I know the common wisdom is that home frozen produce lasts 8-10 months in the freezer. However, I have never personally had frozen vegetables become unsafe to use. And I can say that even when served plain, as a side dish, my partner with the more discerning palate has not (yet) complained about "freezer burn." Of course, he just might be holding his tongue so that he keeps getting fed! ;)

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Happy Earth Day!

Wednesday April 22

Earth Day and Mother Nature has gifted our corner of the world with another light blanket of snow. This seems to make many unhappy, but I still love the late season snows. I will have to change my plans to head up to Dover in search of cardboard to ship the continuing slow stream of hex sign orders, but I have time to do that yet. The one on the painting table is currently awaiting wood dough to fill voids in the edge of the plywood. I thought I still had plenty, but it had dried too much to be workable. So shortly – after breakfast and chores – I will head to the local hardware store to pick some up and then get some more hay for the sheep. They are looking longingly at the bits of green beginning to show in the back field, but it's not time to set up the electric pasture fence … yet. Soon, though!

I have decided to move the anti-deer electric fence in, closer to the fruit and vegetable areas, rather than continuing to try to maintain a longer boundary. Neither of us is young any more, and not having so much fence to maintain, as well as being able to use more strands for the outer fence as well as more string for the inner, visual barrier, will be a good thing. All of my fruit has been nibbled on by deer over the winter.

Miss Kitty, left and Firecat, on the laptop
enjoying the sunshine
Mostly, though, I have spent the day, once again, pushing pixels. I am making decent progress now on the Dutch hex Sign web site updates and with any luck I will be able to begin proof-clicking it tomorrow. It has been fun – and a challenge -- to work with our critters' “help.” Smoke, otherwise known these days as “wide load” has not really been a problem, other than when she gets grouchy and hisses at Firecat for getting too close. If I didn't know she was expecting, and soon, I would know that she was expecting – and soon – by her behavior. One moment she and Fire are sitting so close to each other at the food bowls that their hind quarters are touching and the next moment, though no one has moved, she hissed at Fire for being
too close! Any woman who has ever been pregnant is likely to resonate with that! Miss Kitty has finally really accepted Fire and they have been raising quite the rukkus today with their play and cat chases around the house.

My workstation for this redesign is set up literally right next to the chick's tote, so I have been working to the quiet calls and conversations of the chicks. And have been close at hand to convince Miss Kitty, especially, and the Firecat to a lesser degree, that they do not need to spend all day watching chickie-vision.

As I worked, I watched the snow all but disappear (as the sun set there were small bits clinging to life on the north sides of things) and was treated to another pretty flurry mid -afternoon, though none of it stayed around.

And, after over a year of having it on hold, today I figured out how to migrate the content from my Blogger blog to Wordpress! I have want6ed to do this for some time, as the Wordpress platform is much more robust and flexible, or so it seems to me though I have a long way to go to master it. But I was not going to change platforms until I could take all of the old entries along. When I abandoned LiveJournal a few years back, it was “cold turkey, and I was not going to do that again. 

The blog will be migrating to:

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Wind, cold front and pushing pixels.

The fucking wind is back again with a vengeance. The wind chimes are clanging up a storm (probably literally... we have forecast of more rain later this afternoon and evening though the mainstream media is threatening snow, again.) I have moved the laptop on which I work at the web edits into the living room to get away from the wind from K's fan (it is not even close to fan temperatures for me) only to feel the wind from outside blowing through the cracks. Grrrr! And to top things off, I worked in this wind, with my legs wrapped in a blanket, most of the afternoon.

It has been so long since I DID edits that I have been running around the mulberry bush to find the latest copy of the current site, and finally did, as well as got it onto the thumb drive so I can finally begin actual work! And work I did. I am feeling thoroughly in solidarity with those of you who are on the “work at home” track for this pandemic. It took a while, but I finally got back into the pixel-pushing groove and have been knocking out edits and additions to the Dutch Hex Sign web site today. I am hoping to have the most of it done tomorrow... but after resupplying filler for the actual hex signs, I will also have to do some filling and sanding, if not priming tomorrow. I know it's gonna be a strange day tomorrow: “computer neck” on top of a body full of muscles that don't like me much in general, and no LMT to fix me. But it is what it is and I can still moan, groan, cuss and fuss and “ignore” the pain to a large degree.

I did take the working woman's cop out and threw one of our commercial frozen lasagne packages in the oven for supper tonight, though I possibly redeemed myself with a side dish of home grown frozen peas. I will have to do some actual cooking tomorrow. Does “Mexican Wednesday” count even if I use store bought tortillas? Since I had 2 more ground beef patties than would fit into a gallon zip bag, that is where my mind is going at present. The larger stash is in a chest freezer now but the two oddballs are still in the fridge freezer.

I made a good call, disconnecting the hoses last night; everyone's buckets had more than just a skin of ice and I could feel it in the hoses as well. I won't have to disconnect them tonight, though, as our low is looking to be well above the freezing mark, especially as the wind has finally abated. We have not, thus far, had a lot of rain and though the temperature is not supposed to warm much above freezing tomorrow, it is not supposed to go much below tonight.

Now that I have logged out of “work” I am thinking about at least a short bit of a hot soak. I won't have a gale blowing through the bathroom and it will both relax me and my computer neck (or so I hope!) and give a little time for the bed heater to do its job. [Unheated bedroom, remember?]

Tomorrow will likely start with a quick trip to our little hardware store after chores though I will leave the “off farm” clothes washing until the evening. I have a replacement part for our fridge supposedly coming tomorrow (nothing mechanical..just the shelf that holds the crisper drawers, which is failing), a hex order to work on and another custom job likely coming. And with any luck, in a day or so K will cultivate so I can plant my garlic (late) and begin other gardening chores. I have lots of weed block made, and it is easiest to lay down when the soil has been recently cultivated and there is little to no wind. If necessary, I will deal with the latter to lay out rows and lay down mulch and then continue planting later.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Monday, April 20

Firecat woke up early this morning and awakened me, playing on and grooming my head. If I go bald, I will know why!

The wind, which never seems to abate this spring, has all the wind chimes singing with vigor and I can hear it blowing around the corners of the house, flapping bits of siding and shingles, as well. I am not terribly happy with the winds *this* spring, though I used to enjoy them. Not sure what has changed. We have sun and it will warm up
some but won't be like yesterday. I am glad that, though I will be going out to get plywood today, and hopefully cutting the blank for the 24” hex that has been ordered, the lumber yard is the ONLY place I need to go. Once I get chores and breakfast out of the way, I will attend to that errand and then be glad to stay home at least for a day.

Having got the sign blank cut and rough sanded, it turned out my wood filler had dried up and is unusable and I do not have a spare. I won't have to venture into “the big city” and my local hardware store is truly taking to heart the protocols that the governor has set in place for necessary businesses of this sort so I am not terribly worried about making a run for this supply. I believe they have the spray finish that I use also, and I know it is getting low, so I will pick up another can of that as well. But all that will wait until Wednesday, when the dump will be open again so I can take the stuff that I overlooked this past weekend to their “little building. Wednesday IS dark moon, so I won't actually be going past my deadline. And the client for the Inspiration hex sign that will go on the wood I cut today, once I can get going again, is very understanding about the challenges of procuring materials in these times.

I spent more time today plotting changes and additions to the Dutch Hex Sign web site and I had hoped to get some of that work started tonight but instead I needed to work on revisions to a request for a custom recreation of an old hex sign, the marriage sign, which is not one that I typically paint. After my first go, the client sent me a photo from a brochure of what he had in mind. I am always a little uncertain about replication of signs previously purchased from other painters, but in this case, they have a good reason. Apparently all they can find now are for indoor display and they are replacing a sign from 40 years ago that was badly damaged, along with the shed it was mounted on, in a storm. Other folks come to my work for the spiritual and energetic forces that they hold. Most other hex signs are mass produced or otherwise painted just for pretty. In any case, it is always a challenge to recreate an old sign as each artist has their own unique take on the work and I often learn when working in a different style.
And I am happy to report that the meatloaf yesterday worked well, though it did take about twice as long to bake. It held together and had a good taste. I cut it up into pieces and threw it into a rice casserole tonight, with more tomato stuff, onion and bell pepper. That was good too.

When I did evening chores, I replaced a leaky Y valve on the barnyard hose, (managed to find one at the lumberyard!) but after watering tonight I still turned the water off, opened the valves in the barnyard and disconnected the splitter from the supply hose. We are expecting a bit colder temperature tonight and I am hoping to keep things from bursting.

On the garden front, I took a spading fork to the garden today to check on soil texture, as I am trying to keep K on track to get cultivation done for early planting, and discovered that even though the soil may not be quite warm yet (I did not have the thermometer with me) it IS dry enough to cultivate! Won't be after tomorrow's rain, but it drains quickly and knowing that he could have worked today, had the tractor and implement been ready, is helping keep my Tractor Guy headed in the right direction, despite the increase in his pain levels.

Now just waiting for my night time meds to kick in so I can join the cats, who have already gone to bed. I think the chicks want me to turn off the light, too!

And a fine Sunday it was!

Sunday, April 19
Today would have been a great day to take the weed whacker to the garden – which I had planned for Tuesday – as the wind was not cold and the temperature warmed nicely. However, much as it was needed, it did not happen. I just could not muster the energy for that project. Instead I did more laundry (changing after away missions has been making much more laundry than typical and of course when we both go out, it doubles. Fortunately that is not often!) getting the away mission clothes, including jackets, washed and on the line, as well as the towels we stood on and dried with. Maybe excessing caution, but I am definitely leaning that way.

I did some hex business stuff, answering email queries and prototyping a design, we re-worked the chick brooder set up to make the light more easily adjustable and to make the cat-resistant mesh covering more secure and easier to lay back to feed and water the little fluff- nuggets. I do not know if it was the kind and loving care they got from the first moments they broke out of their eggs, or just the fact that I usually have way more than just 6, but they are so quiet that I have been often interrupting my work to go check on them. I enjoy their quiet peeps and know when I hear a rukkus that there will be a cat in the picture! Yesterday, Miss Kitty managed to fall into the tote (she was on top at the time, watching and I saw nothing that looked like an attempt to do more than watch “chicky vision” up close) as the mesh on the top moved and deposited her in with the chicks. THEY were concerned, of course and the cat was extracted before she really realized what had happened.

Today, with the improvements, there have been no cross-species visits though each of the cats did get on top once and left when I yelled at them.

Large Abundance and Prosperity
sign being installed by its owners.
I spent quite a bit of time this afternoon snagging pix of the newer hex signs and putting them on a thumb drive, so I can work with them on Dellores, using Photoshop and Dreamweaver. The web site needs some serious work. There are a lot of custom signs not shared there, customer shots of the signs after mounting, and pictures of exterior versions of several of the designs shown on my sale page only as indoor ones.

I will be dropping all mention of the indoor designs, painted on fabric. They are not profitable, at all, but more to the point they are MUCH less forgiving. A random drop of paint (they do happen) that falls into a “background” (i.e. unpainted fabric) area cannot be corrected. And on the last one I did, recently as a commission for a friend, it happened on the last color! I told the client that her sign would be late because I had to repaint it but she insisted that I send it as it is. I am still uncomfortable with that, and will be painting another one for her, regardless.

We are getting half a dozen eggs a day, more than we need, so if anyone in the local area would like a mixed dozen chicken and duck eggs every now and then, and would be willing to pick them up, we can do a “safe exchange” by my putting the carton on our porch, along with a clean mason jar for $3. If you are out of work and short on bucks, just let me know. I can give you eggs and consider it the least I can do to help my fellow humans.

I got the frozen brats and beef smoked sausage links into bags (labeled, even!) and pattied out the ground beef for the freezer, with a bit held out for meatloaf, as is my custom when I get 5# or so of the ground stuff. I had to improvise my meatloaf, though, as I had forgotten to thaw catsup and did not want to wait. (It will be thawed in time to use as a condiment, though.) This meatloaf leans a wee bit south of the border (the international one, with Mexico, not with one of our neighboring states!) as I used a bit a salsa for the tomato flavor, along with chopped onion, a bit of chopped bell pepper, a shot of Worcestershire sauce (put on the list for next month, we are almost out!), a couple of duck eggs to hold the runny mess together, I hope,  and a generous helping of crackers. Crossing my fingers! I'll be making mashed potatoes (with butter, not gravy because meat loaf does not make gravy) and my next task is to throw together some French dressing, once the catsup is thawed. I have been wanting some, and with iceberg, green leaf lettuce, spinach, cucumber and tomatoes waiting in the fridge, it will be worth the effort even if the “loafmeat” has to wait a few minutes.

I did cut the eyes off the ends of all of the 'taters that had bits of visible growth, and am letting them sit in the window sill to dry and green a bit before planting, as the instructions for “growing potatoes from peels” which I finally read, suggest.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Caught up at last: chicks!!

18 April, Saturday

We awakened to bad news this morning, as the neighbor's dog did not make it. We all are saddened, our neighbors especially so. It seems that the vet's office was unwilling to begin the necessary surgery until after the folks – working poor like many in Maine – could assure them that they had the money to cover the procedure, which was, as I understand it, in the ballpark of $5000. I understand they need to get paid too, and to cover overhead and supplies. I really do. But this is one reason that I could not be one to be in a position to deny or delay service of a life-threatening nature, to any being. The dog might well have not made it anyway; she was old. But as hard as it is to have “that talk” with your partner or family... one cannot have it with an animal. They cannot say “please, let me go” even if they would and so the decision to treat to prolong life or make them comfortable and allow them to pass is only up to those of use who love them and are not able to think clearly in situations like this.

I heard, just yesterday, I believe it was, a discussion with a palliative care doctor, about the necessity of having end of life discussions now, when we are able to be clear headed. And to understand what hospice is, what palliative care entails, and that it is not just for end of life situations. And for everyone's sakes, do understand the money part, as unfortunately, that figures in to just about everything. Dammit. Maine Public Radio Maine Calling program link

On a more rational note, the Nordic Blessed Year hex is off to Washington state, and another order for a 2' sign has been received (Inspiration) which will require a trip to the lumber yard Monday. We did the dump run as well, but as usual I managed to forget the donations to the “free store” (they call it “the little building” at our transfer station) so I will make another trip out on Wednesday just to drop those donations. This is a well socially distanced event, outdoors, so I do not have much concern. We will be storing our recycles for the foreseeable future, as that service is currently not running.

After our town trips, we headed out to pick up chicks. Yeah, not what one thinks of in this time of social distancing, not to mention chicken hoarding! LOL But my friend Crystal, of Pajamas, Books and Chickens had hatched half a dozen for me –
“backyard run” but having seen her hens and handsome rooster, I am sure they will be lovely. All 6 are home and in a cat-resistant home (we hope... ) as Miss Kitty has been way to curious and has visited them twice thus far. So far, it is just curiosity on her part not a desire for an unauthorized nugget and we plan to keep it that way!

On the way, we took a short digression at the new little IGA store in Brewer, as friend Bonnie had commented positively about the relative lack of empty shelves at the IGA where she shops, in Old Town. While we were in Corinth, I had stopped at the dollar store, having also heard that they did have paper products... which they did, but only plastic wrapped 4-packs of TP and we are not short enough for me to contemplate that option at present. I did want to top off, if I could, and to pick up distilled water for K's CPAP and my steam iron, as they did not make it onto my list earlier in the week. Lo and behold, the IGA came through and I got the three rolls, 2 gallons and a nice bag of lettuce that looks to hold well, as well as a box of terribly out of season strawberries for a treat with the last of the pound cake.

I took a long cat nap with Firecat this afternoon (late to bed/early AM does take it out of me these days) and my first night sleeping with the new little kitty had me awake often, though she spent the night curled up next to me (on the opposite
side that Smoke had adopted, but rarely takes now that she is carrying her wide load and the temperature is staying more mild). She has a delightful purr, which I enjoy, and is currently lying across my shoulders as I type while waiting for the scalloped cabbage to reheat in the oven. This is a re-run of yesterday's supper, since K got back home late last night and just made a sandwich for supper. I did put together an apple-celery salad, though. We will enjoy it shortly.