Saturday, April 27, 2013

Elvis' Wild Ride

Elvis, as you may remember, is our relatively new rooster. He is a beautiful bird, but not terribly long on brains, it would seem, even for a typically bird-brained species. He has taken to roosting on my pickup truck, Artie, at night. The first night he found the passenger side wiper a sufficient place to rest; after "wiping" him off and then having to take to the window with a scrubbie from the kitchen to remove his residue, I am glad that he decided the side of  the bed was a better place to bed down and even more happy that, each night, he sleeps face IN, and that  he is sufficiently large than his droppings land on the ground beside the truck.

Elvis settling in for the night.
Just last night we discovered that "deer season" is upon us again. No, not the time when folks take to the woods with weapons and a full freezer on their minds, but rather, when said mammals begin to take interest in dining "al fresco" on fresh, organic veggies.

Dogs were barking as we were dishing up supper last night and K spotted a deer browsing in the far back field. We want to seriously DISCOURAGE them from thinking this is an OK place to be, so I went to the back door and hollered. No luck. Clapped my hands, hit a yardstick on the fence rail... ditto... So I dashed (...slowly... on sore legs and bare feet) out to the truck to use it to run them off. 

Elvis had already gone to roost for the night on the side of the pickup bed, but I figured once I got going he would depart. 

OH HOW WRONG I WAS! I stopped watching him after traversing the rutted ground on the lawn next to the driveway that we were using at one point as a turn-around (mud season....) as I was rapidly gaining speed for the deer drive-by. Artie and I flew around behind the garage, out past the well head, and past the apple tree, heading toward the browsing deer at a reckless pace. I had to get almost to them, honking as I went, before the herd (about 6) began bounding off across the neighbor's drive and into their woods. I didn't see Elvis, and wasn't sure where he might have hopped off... I figured it had been at the first sharp turn, at the garage.However, he must have clung on for dear life, as I think now that I must have lost him on the sharp turn away from the border lilacs after spooking the deer. 

Didn't see him on the return trip (I was looking for him in the side yard by the well, behind the garage). When I got back into the house and looked back into the yard, there was this small, dark speck moving slowly and in an aimless manner in the back field. Elvis was a LONG way from anything he had explored and would know as home. Since he was not getting any closer to the house and dusk was upon us, K offered to go out and run him home. I swear K walked twice as far coming back as he did going out. Apparently a rooster WILL NOT walk a straight line. Either that, or he got into my beer on the back porch. 

I went out on the back stoop to watch the chicken herding, and by the time they got about half way to me, I could hear Elvis. He was cussin' the whole way back.. I don't know exactly what he was saying, but I am real sure that I don't want a translation.

He slept perched on the side of Artie's bed again last night. I wonder, if I have do to another deer drive-by tonight, if he will take the hint. I know I am not going to offer him a ride again, though. I don't want to hear words like that outa a rooster again this soon.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

It's Time for Growing Things!

Life is picking up speed here at hex central and on Hearthfire Hill. Chickens and ducks (the latter, the namesakes of our new vegetable marketing brand -- Fussing Duck Farm. 

That is the way the cycle goes, though. The long nights and quiet, cold days of the dark side of the year, with time spent spinning by the fire and doing a human version of the bear's winter sleep, to recharge from the previous busy growing season, give way once more to longer days and projects galore!

New Earth Star Flower design
for outdoor display
The first project knocked off the list was one that had been forgotten about over the past few months. I had started a small redesign of the Dutch Hex Sign store page, to give more information about the various designs and clean up issues with the shopping cart, but other projects intervened ( two large print projects, actually, for clients of my design studio, Vision IPD) and the personal web redesign was dropped. Then I sold one of the few, small, in-stock signs and, in a fit of efficiency, removed it from the page. I did not scroll down enough when doing this "quick fix" to notice that I was working on the only partially completed redesign page, which I then uploaded... broken links and defective shopping cart and all! I finally discovered there Http:// now works ( if you happen to see anything I overlooked, or which is not working in YOUR browser or on your device, PLEASE let me know what is broken and what browser/operating system/device you are using to view it!)
was a problem and completed the update.

Then, magically, the soil warmed (it seemed like overnight!) from 32 degrees to a balmy 46! Not exactly the optimal temperature for a mud bath (though the fowl have been enjoying "dusting" themselves for several days now) but warm enough to entertain the first plantings of many of the cool season crops. Equally amazing, after this long, cold and WET spring, the soil dried sufficiently for Tractor Guy K to get out there today with Fergie and begin soil prep. I was totally prepared to stick the first rows into ground that had last seen cultivation in the fall, but this will be better.

Seedlings getting hardened off; protected from
hungry chickens!
The seedlings are in the process of being hardened off, living on the porch, surrounded by a makeshift fence of plastic poultry netting and step-in posts, dropped into holes drilled into the deck, to keep the hungry chickens at bay. One of the planter boxes of lettuce, from which we have been eating, was attacked by Confused, one of the hens, on a previous plant outing, and several of the seedling kale plants uprooted. Hopefully all will survive and prosper, now that the chickens cannot get to the "treats." I am still considering how to protect them in the garden until I can get chicken fencing up again. That is another spring project on the list, along with assembling the small (8x12) greenhouse we bought last year.

We'll see how much gets done over the weekend!

Meanwhile, test your knowledge of lettuce! Visit

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Mother Teaches the Crone

Crone; the whole gestalt evokes wisdom, and calm acceptance -- at least to me. I looked forward to cronehood for years before I had any right to claim the life stage. I croned at 56, on my birthday. It felt right; I had been in menopause a few years and as I neared that milestone, Hecate came.knocking on the door.

Starwalker reminisces at her croning ceremony.
Perhaps I'll revisit my croning ritual/birthday party, if anyone is interested, at a later date. Suffice to say at this point I ritually recalled my life while friends encircled me. I had laid out a spiral path of candles, one for each year, with mementos and memory flags by the candles for notable years. As I walked the spiral, lighting candles, I reminisced over the path thus far. At the end of the journey through my life, I offered a sacrifice (planned months in advance) to the Gods in thanks for a life well lived and in petition for many productive years yet to come. My sacrifice was hair, specifically the grown out length of dyed and lightened hair,which I had stopped coloring and allowed to grow specifically for this event. My friends gathered around me and "cut on the transition line,' lopping off the treated locks and leaving me with a short 'do in my natural, greying blonde color.

It's been nearly 9 years since then. I have moved to the northlands, returned to my love of tilling the earth and caring for farm animals. I have had a bout of a pretty serious condition or two, survived and stagger on through good days and challenging ones.

Just today I realized some of my successes in meeting the challenges of aging have roots deep in my Mother years.

As a young woman, a Maiden if you will, I was a jet propelled, take no prisoners, nothing gets in the way dynamo of energy and productivity. Food was optional, as was sleep. Folks often quipped that I must photosynthesize like a plant to be able to maintain my pace. I hated leaving anything incomplete, whatever the projects and would work day into the night without even thinking of stopping, until it was complete. Then, I would fall into rest with equal vigor (or depth of collapse, if that sounds better.)

However, when I began my Mother years, everything got turned on its end. Babies, as you may know if you have ever known one, are not easily put off! They don't care what is left undone; when they need -- be it food, a diaper change, or rocking for comfort -- they need it NOW. That was the biggest challenge of my life. There was no question about it. I did natural child birth, breast feed, made my own baby food, carried little ones first in front- and then in backpacks. I KNEW that laying a good foundation in infancy and early childhood -- meeting a baby's needs -- was not "spoiling" but giving them a strong foundation of security from which they could explore the world.

And I nearly went nuts.

I had to learn to do things -- EVERYTHING -- in 5-10 minute increments. Now, sometimes I was able to spend longer on a task because I was moving about and, while moving, Baby slept in her pack. But it was not a regular thing and the one thing I could count on was interruption.

Evidence of the Mother years; Starwalker's five daughters.
I learned to let go of things that were not essential. Making beds with neat hospital corners went the way of the dodo. Throwing the covers up and over was good enough; save the fussing for when the needed clean linens. Dishes got washed in fits and starts... eventually... though I will admit that when things got crazy, more than once they all got pitched into the bathtub for a soak before washing.

I learned that some times, the best use of time is a nap. I learned to pace myself and know that some days are naturally more productive than others and that a day in which little got done did NOT mean that would be the pattern from there on out.

And now, when the aches and pains of aging gang up on me; when the sore ankle that COULD have been broken but thankfully was not starts fussing, when the mind is willing but the energy is lacking... well, it's ok.
Things CAN be done in fits and starts. Nowhere is it written that all the windows must be washed he very same day. They'll all be better than they were in a week or so when they get one, one to a day.

The corner of the living room that hold today's window is clean now, though the rest of the room did not get done but that's ok. Another corner will likely be on the list, with the next window, tomorrow. That is, barring too much jarring of the ankle and knees at work in the morning. If they are yelling too loudly, well, there is always the next day.

So I guess Mother taught me to emulate the tortoise in more ways than just the one in which she entered my life during the earlier stage: Consider the tortoise. She only makes progress when she sticks out her neck.

She also makes progress one step at a time. So this crone, formerly a hare, has learned.

What have YOU learned from Mother?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Hybrid, F1, GMO, Heirloom... Making Sense in the Garden

It has come to my attention that in the (in my opinion) concern over genetic engineering of plants and animals, there is much confusion and misunderstanding among many lay persons about what constitutes a GMO seed product. With the often knee-jerk proliferation of memes and articles "rallying the troops" against Monsanto and similar companies, "big ag" and the unknown effects of genetic engineering on us and the environment farther down the line, many folks seem to have lost track (if they even paid attention) of some of the basic science we should have learned in high school.

So, in an attempt to clear up any confusion, this is my attempt to explain Plant Breeding 101.

What does GMO actually mean? 

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Genetic engineering  is the direct manipulation of a plant or animal's DNA by use of biotechnology. New DNA may be inserted, genes may be removed, deleted or mutated. The goals of the technology vary and can include making a plant more resistant to cold, pests or pesticides which could be then more effectively used against weeds in that crop, for example. Genetic engineering can be used to increase a specific nutrient, or to make the plant or animal grow more quickly.

Many of these goals are desirable, though we may disagree with the method.

Many of these goals have also been the focus of traditional plant breeding, which has gone on for centuries.

Hybrid plants and animals are NOT GMO.

Hybridization is the result of interbreeding of two species (such as a mule or a hinny -- both crosses between a horse and a donkey or a beefalo, the cross between a American bison and a domestic cow) or two genetically different plants.Both can happen naturally and hybrids have been around so long that we have forgotten the origin of some!
  • Peppermint, a hybrid between spearmint and water mint
  • Triticale, a wheat–rye hybrid
  • Wheat; most modern and ancient wheat breeds are themselves hybrids. 
  • Bread wheat is a hybrid of three wild grasses. 
  • Durum (pasta) wheat is a hybrid of two wild grasses
  • Grapefruit, hybrid between a pomelo and the Jamaican sweet orange.
 An "F1 hybrid" is a first generation hybrid.

"F1" is shorthand for "first filial;" in other words the first generation of a cross between two different parent varieties of seeds. They often display characteristics of vigor and uniformity. F1 hybrids of annual plants such as tomatoes are usually created by controlled pollination, sometimes hand pollination, and must be produced anew each year. A common example is the tomato Juliet, shown here in Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog. F1 hybrids have been around since the days of Gregor Mendel's research in the mid-1800s.

While F1 hybrid plants have much to recommend them, they do not "breed true." Saving the seed will result in an F2 generation of plants that does not have the consistency of the F1 hybrid. It may, however, retain some desirable traits and can be produced more cheaply as no intervention in the pollination is required.

"Heirloom:" a poorly defined term or marketing ploy?

While some people try to define “heirloom” by age, such as saying that any plant that originated before 1951 (after which hybridization became popular) is an heirloom, the most widely accepted definition of what constitutes an heirlooms is that it is open-pollinated and was grown in an earlier era. Some heirlooms are hundreds of years old, and others originated around the turn of the 20th century.

Why "open pollinated?"

Open pollinated plants are the boon of seed savers and frugal gardeners. Allow some of your open pollinated plants to mature and go to seed, save the seed and you can plant the same variety next year!
There is a little more to it than that, but that's the basics.

If you plant more than one variety of a plant (such as my rows which contain over 15 different kinds of lettuce!) any seeds I save will be cross bred, as the bees and other pollinators visit various lettuces on their rounds. If I wanted to save seed that was true to variety, I would need to separate the varieties with other types of plants in between to minimize cross pollination. Or I could just let nature take its course, plant the F1 and then F2 hybrids and eventually have a unique "Fussing Duck Lettuce."

The "Safe Seed Pledge"

The Safe Seed Pledge was created in 1999 when a coalition of 10 seed companies drafted a statement about the signers' stance on genetic engineering. Over 70 companies have signed the pledge, ranging from large seed companies to family-owned businesses.
"Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms poses great biological risks, as well as economic, political and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately healthy people and communities."

Fedco seeds points out some of the legal issues on their web page. They are signers of the Safe Seed Pledge, but they point to the language in the Pledge "we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants," saying that because of genetic drift, over which no one has any control,  one cannot give an absolute guarantee. In my opinion, this is both honest and responsible.

All but one of the (thus far) 109 varieties I am planting this year come from one of the following companies, all of whom have signed the Safe Seed Pledge.

Fedco Seeds
Territorial Seeds
Johnny's Selected Seeds
High Mowing Seeds
Renee's Garden Seeds