Friday, November 28, 2008

Winter feeding station

I was out in the garden a day or two ago and heard a white-breasted nuthatch ank-anking as it fed in one of the pecan trees. I ran inside and got my camera, but when I aimed it at the nuthatch, he went behind the trunk, only to be replaced by this lovely female downy woodpecker:

I took the arrival of both birds to be a sign that it is time to set up the winter bird feeding station. So on Wednesday I bought the seed, scrubbed and sparkled the feeders, and hung it all out:


It's a bit hard to see, but I've got two tube feeders (one with thistle seed and the other with black oil sunflower seed), one platform feeder (black oil), a nut cake in a cage, and water in a pan. And yesterday, among the usual house sparrow/white-winged dove suspects, I had already had my first goldfinch, so what with the woodp, nuthatch, and g-finch (plus a heard Carolina wren this AM), it looks like it's already shaping up to be a good winter. I disassembled my old blind this year, so I need to get cracking on replacing it with my combo potting bench/bird blind that I plan to build with the recycled lumber.

No pics yet of this year's crop, but here's a lovely one from last year of a red-breasted nuthatch:

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Woohoo! Recycle those political yard signs!

My two commercial rain barrels came with screened lids, but they have been completely useless for keeping out mosquitoes (and yes, I use dunks, and no, they do not work). So this summer I taped plastic over the tops of them in an attempt to thwart my arch nemesis, the wily (and pesky) Asian Tiger Mosquito. (O! Asian Tiger Mosquito, how you torment me!) I am very pleased to report that it worked. But it was ugly, and I thought I could do better.

So after the fall elections, I saved two of my yard signs, which were the sturdy, corrugated plastic kind, with the intention of recycling them into festive lids for the barrels. Today, while waiting to start the holiday cooking, I went out to the shop to catch up on that little chore. Here are the very satisfactory results:


Though the average observer will be unable to deduce my political leanings from them (since there is not a party designation on either), the careful and astute follower of Texas politics might be able to do so. Suffice it to say that in my part of the state, it is not politically healthy to advertise on your sign the fact that you are running on the Democratic Party ticket. ;-)

In any case, I think they are as cute as button and very frugal, to boot.

Fie on you, Asian Tiger Mosquito! Take your business elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On being thankful

There are few bright spots in the story that is Alzheimer's. About the only one I can point to is the way trying to deal with an impossible situation has drawn me closer to my siblings. My sisters and I got together on a recent weekend to try to figure out ways to help my parents, who steadfastly refuse to be helped. Any assistance we give them has to be surreptitious, and (compounding the problem) if we all arrive at their home at the same time, my father immediately becomes suspicious, certain we are there to bundle him off to the "home." So keep him calm on this occasion, my sisters and I announced that we were getting together for a quilting weekend. One of us would work on a quilt in the front of the house, while the two others hid in a back bedroom going through bills and making sure they were paid. We rotated in and out on the quilting, so that my parents always saw one of us working. Here I am, looking like I know what I'm doing:


Of course, we didn't start and finish the quilts while we were there, but each of us had a one in one stage or another of completion. I hadn't done any quilting for years, but this little parent/quilt-project (and one like it this summer) started me up again. That is a photo at the top of my finished quilt, out in the garden with my tool trug and squash. It is a simple, traditional four-square pattern, with homespun fabrics.

And then, just before it was time to go, we got together for pictures. Here's a picture of my sisters with theirs:


And a sweet photo of Mom and Dad:


My sisters and I live in different places, with different lives, goals, priorities, politics, and religions. But this thing we're dealing with has brought us back together and strengthened our bonds, and I guess that's a little tidbit of joy in the middle of the nightmare.

So what am I thankful for this year? All those little tidbits, the bright spots that make life bearable.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

All good things must come from an end...

...and the "end" in this case is a horse's behind. Here's a pic of me looking peppy, having just shoveled three yard waste-sized bags full of manure and loaded them into the old wagon:

All I need is a pair of cowboy boots and I might look like a Texan.

The photo was taken by my friend Jill, who owns a few horses. Jill is also a gardener, as well as a biologist, and she understands just how valuable manure really is. So when I asked her if she had any to spare, she didn't bat an eye.

Here are two of the bags, ready to go into the bin (the other is already in there):


This all took place about two or three weeks ago, in anticipation of the big leaf drop. Since then, I've added some leaves and started turning the compost every day or so. And may I say that there are few things as cheery as seeing steam rising from a compost heap on a blustery autumn day like today?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The origin the word of "treen"

Karen at Greenwalks was asking about the etymology of the word "treen," which is used to describe a wooden utensil, door handle, latch, etc.

According to my Compact Oxford English Dictionary, the word is Middle English and derived from the Old English treowen (wooden), which in turn comes from treow (wood).

Here are a couple of examples from my gates:


I like using treen for things like handles and doors--it adds a little character and it costs nothing (frugal is good!). The handles last a long time, too. I have one on a screen door that are probably close to a decade old and shows no sign of wearing out.

Other portals and arbors in my garden

Just because I like making them and showing them off...

You should recognize this climbing rose arbor/portal from the blog title (only it's flipped there so that the words will show up better).


This one is really a chin-up arbor (no kidding!). I open the gate, put a rod through those eyelets, and do partial chin ups (I am a wimp and can't do full ones) when I am training for triathlons. It's also there to hide a utility area...

I'm running out of room for arbors. Anyone have an arbor or gate they'd like me to build?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A prairie portal for the farm

My weekend suddenly and unexpectedly became free, so I used it to make a new entry to the farm. Here is the old one:


This looked pretty boring to me, and I thought it would be nice to have something a little more inviting. Even so, I wanted it to be simple and rustic, something you might find outside a prairie homesteader's kitchen garden.

Here is Harold giving me a hand in the construction:



I put the cross pieces together with half-lap joints:



I gave the posts cement shoes for support and to keep water from pooling around the base:



Once the cement for the posts had set overnight, I made a new gate for the entry:


I gave it a little treen (wooden) handle:



And then I made a little bird house out of scrap from the old gate:


There is a antique climbing rose (Trier) just to the left of the gate, and hopefully I'll be able to train the canes to grow along the fence and over the portal. All those roses and structures at the Fort Worth Botanic garden must have really made an impression on me...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Peas, Peas Me


I built this rustic trellis several years ago, simply because I had these posts left over from some trees we had taken out and, as we all know by now, I like garden structures and I like to build things. For all this time, it's sat unused at the rear of the backyard, in the weedy fenced-off area I've always jokingly called "the farm."

I've never planted anything on the trellis, mainly because up till now, I have had other priorities in my life and in my garden. And it is only this year, in fact, that I started to work on the farm, trying to turn it into this vague vision of a prairie kitchen garden that I have in my head. The results from this first year have been mixed, but that's okay, since life is about learning. I'm ready to give it a go again next year.

One interesting thing I've learned (that wasn't actually about the difference between growing vegetables and ornamentals) is that even if the space is supposed to be utilitarian, I can't resist tweaking the aesthetics. In fact, over the summer, as the farm became more and more settled--stone borders for the homesteader's ornamental bed, cold frames, re-sized and re-located compost bins, etc--I found I wanted to spend all my garden time out there, even more than I wanted to spend it in the ornamental garden. In working with it and making those little tweaks to give it some personality, it became a place to me, instead just a leftover spot in the yard where I was trying to grow some vegetables.

Place has associations. Place has memories. Place has character. You can have a conversation with place.

Anyway, I have developed more than a little affection for it, as unfinished as it still is. Unfinished doesn't matter, because it is young yet, and in my mind I can see what it will become.

Which all leads me to the real topic for today: Anna over at Flowergardengirl tapped me for something that is called a "seek and find" game. I am still relatively new to the blogosphere, but I think that the purpose of these "memes" (am I using that word in the correct sense?) is to introduce readers of one blog to other blogs they might enjoy. Anna was gracious enough to do that for my blog, and now I must return the favor.

In this particular game, I was supposed to grab the nearest book (not the best, or favorite, or most erudite, but the nearest) and turn to page 56, count down to the 5th sentence, and read it and two or three sentences beyond. Then I pass the game on to others.

So here goes, from Southwest Kitchen Garden, by Kim Nelson:

"Suggested varieties 'Cascadia,' Oregon Sugar Pod,' Sugar Snap,' and Super Sugar are tasty pod varieties that do particularly well in our arid climate. 'Dakota' or 'Wando' pods can be harvested and eaten when young or shelled when more mature.

Potential problems If allowed to sprawl on the soil of water overhead, peas are susceptible to mildew, so grow them on trellises or stakes and string. They are also favorites of native birds and may require some protection."

There you have it. I suppose it is a sign for what I should grow on that birdhouse trellis next year...

So here are my blog picks. If you've been tapped, don't feel obligated to play the game (though it would be fun for us to see what you are reading right now), but I did want to share your blog with others.

Greenwalks -- I love this blog. Karen is fighting the good fight in her posts on what creative Seattleites (is that how you say it?) are doing with their hell strips.

Red Dirt Ramblings -- Dee, up there in our neighbor state, has a beautiful blog and garden, and she writes just as beautifully about it. Check it out.

Brush and Baren -- Okay, this is not a garden blog, but printmaker Sherrie York has such engaging images that you just have to take a look. Buy one of those little prints she has for sell--they're cheap and would make a great holiday gift (I have three myself, and I'm not giving them to anyone!). And no, I do not personally know this person, nor am I a paid shill.

Soliloquy-- regular members of Blotanical are already familiar with this site, since it is a favorite of many. Even so, it is worth a repeat look-see if you already know it, and for those of you who don't already know it, you'll be glad to find it.

Red, White, and Grew--if you have an interest in Victory Gardens, then this is a good place to start. P.Price has put together a very user-friendly, informative blog on growing your own food and eating locally.

There you have it. I am "peased" to present these blogs to you (from so many to choose!), and thank you again, Anna for including me in the quest.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Still Life with Squash and Chair

I finally pulled up the calabaza squash vine on Sunday. It was looking very tatty and pathetic, have suffered the dual ravages of powdery mildew and mild freezes. In the end, it produced just these two fruits, one of which is bigger than my schnoodle, Gracie. I tried to take a picture of Gracie next to it for scale, but she was not at all sure that was a good idea.

In spite of how ugly the vine eventually became, I think the squash is quite lovely. The leaves of the vine were spectacular, too, before the PoMi struck.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pet sock wars.

This is for Kate, over at The Manic Gardener:

The schnoodles have a fetish for socks, and from time to time, they'll sneak into my sock drawer and start dragging them outside. This is what greeted me when I went out the back door this morning to check on the carrots. There are actually three socks in the photo--one in the foreground, and two behind Gracie. A fourth was on the back porch. A fifth was under a bush.

I think they had heard about the sock wars over on Kate's blogsite, and wanted to get in on the action...

I love how they are looking around, as if to say, "Who dragged out all these socks?"

Fort Worth Botanic Garden


I took some time to go to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden while I was at the CAST conference last week. It was a beautiful set of gardens, and I was there on a lovely day. I took a few pictures, and now that I'm back home looking at them, it occurs to me that I like garden structures...

Most of these are from the rose garden, which I hadn't expected to like. I had wandered through there on my way to the Japanese garden (I'm a real sap for Japanese gardens, and would grow one myself if I didn't live smack in the middle of a semi-arid prairie). I haven't always been a big fan of roses, long believing them to be too fussy and frou-frou, but a few years ago, I got seduced by the snazzy historical/cultural info and pretty pics on the website of the Antique Rose Emporium, and I've been hooked on antique roses ever since. Turns out, many roses have grit. I can respect grit.

Even so, I expected that the rose garden would be dull. But when I strolled through an entryway and was immediately enveloped by the aroma from a bank of pink roses, I was sold. Plus--what can I say?--there were all those garden structures.

Unfortunately, none of the photos I tried to take of the roses turned out, owing to my inability to tell whether they were in focus when I took them (I am hopelessly far-sighted). I am really going to have to figure out a solution to that problem...

Anyway, enjoy the pictures that did turn out.

Oh, and the one photo with the container is actually from an herb garden that was at a living history museum just down the road...


Monday, November 10, 2008

Thoughts on Slowing Down, While Traveling at Highway Speed

Out here, we measure distance between places in terms of time--as in, "It is six hours to Dallas," or, "It's ten hours to Houston." I am told, by people who come from geographies less wide-open, that this is not how the rest of the world does it, preferring instead to refer to kilometers or miles when discussing matters of distance.

But there is an old saying about traveling the Great State: "The sun is riz, the sun is set, and here we is, in Texas yet." And at the end of a long, exhausting trip to Fort Worth on business, when I set out for home, it was indeed the time it would take me to cross half the state that I felt most keenly. You know how it is--when you are done with your trip and ready to get back to the homestead, time seems to expand into forever. It slows to an agonizing crawl.

But I like driving in the west. When the horizon stretches out wide in front of you, your thoughts just naturally seem to get wider, too. And so when I finally broke free of the confines of the DFW freeway system and hit I-20, heading west, well my heart opened right up just like those big, grassy plains before me. And so instead of feeling impatient and in a hurry, I relaxed and spent my time thinking about those plains, and just how much I love them. It turned a chore into a very pleasant afternoon. And paradoxically, instead of time crawling, it felt like it proceeded at a pace that was just right.

While on the road, I also thought a lot about the effect that slowing things down can have on our lives. Lately, when I've been feeling stressed and in a hurry, I've been trying to consciously soften the pace of my thoughts and actions, and in the same way that my drive home became a pleasant diversion instead of an onerous chore, slowing down helps me to enjoy the journey. And, also paradoxically, I seem to complete the task much more efficiently and quickly when I don't try to hurry it.

Sadly, I don't have a picture of my windshield view to share, so I offer this one I took at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens. With that good central Texas sandstone facing the arches of the pergola in the foreground, that rustic structure in the background, and the big chunk of sky beyond--well, it just looks quintessentially western to me, even without a grassy plain in sight.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Radio silence

I'm getting ready to hit the road for Fort Worth. I'm going to CAST (Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching) for a few days to hawk our degree program, Natural History and Humanities. In order to save the taxpayers of the Great State a few bucks, I'm staying in a cheap hotel, and I am not at all sure I will have access to wireless. So I may be entering radio silence until I return on Saturday.

Before I leave, I have a few garden chores to do. I need to water the carrots, check to see that the cold frame's lid is ready to go in case we have a freeze while I'm gone, and pick up whatever pecans fell during last night's wind.

I use a favorite tool to pick up the pecans:

I don't know what it's called, but I do know I never have to bend over when I use it. When you are picking up hundreds of nuts, it becomes a steady friend. Plus, with that slinky thingy on the end, it just looks like a party waiting to happen, doesn't it?

See y'all on Saturday, if not before!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bees Are Bloomin' on Blooming Tuesday

The girls were busy on the farm yesterday. There is only one squash flower left blooming on the calabaza vine, and it was very popular. I'd guess they are taking advantage of every last bloom they can find right now, trying to store up for the coming winter.

I really, really, really want to raise me up some bees.

And chickens.

Sigh.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Here they come...

The first pecans of the season. Trust me, there will be more. A lot more...

We inherited three pecan trees when we moved into our house, over a dozen years ago. One of them is about 75 years old and still producing. This year looks like it will be a bumper crop, and, so far, the squirrels have had little impact (this seems to be a lean year for the squirrel population).

Squirrels and pecan trees seem to go together. Often during the summer, I'll be sitting outside reading and a pesky squirrel will throw a pecan at me. Swear to god. They throw them at the dogs, too--no wonder they go crazy barking at the little rodents.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the harvest. Pecans are, hands down, my favorite nut. I start my day by sprinkling them on my cereal. As brain food, walnuts top the list, but pecans up are up there, even so. Since they are my local crop, I'll go with them.

Pecans are not native to this part of Texas (few trees are), but they are native elsewhere in the state. I love my three big trees.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What to do on an autumn Sunday morning

I spent much of my childhood in New Mexico, and as a consequence, I cook with a lot of roasted chiles. I'll buy them at the supermarket and roast them myself when they are in season, and the rest of the year I'll use canned Hatch chiles, but this is my first year to grow them. I am simply amazed at how much more flavorful they are when they come straight from my backyard.

The weather seemed just right for harvesting and roasting the remainder of the poblano peppers this morning. I've been freezing them up in small cooking portions. They probably won't last for more than a few weeks, but it was worth the extra effort to grow them myself. Come some frosty winter evening, I'll be savoring some green chile stew and be reminded of autumn mornings.