Thursday, December 31, 2009

Do I start from scratch, or what?

I don't do a lot of sewing, mostly because I'm not very good at it. In fact, my middle school home economics teacher took early retirement the year following my matriculation in her classroom, and I've always suspected it was because of her despair over my failure to achieve proper bobbin tension. I still have a lot of guilt to work through.

Every once in a great while, though, I like to slap together a quilt (that one up there in the photo is one I made last year). Nothing fancy--I'm less interested in intricate patterns than I am in the plain old practical idea of quilts. I like it that they had a simple purpose (keep the family warm) and were usually made from scraps (don't waste anything), after the chores were done (be useful even when you're sitting still). And here's the best part: all this practicality ends up in something pleasing to the eye.

Beauty plus pragmatism: watchwords for life.

The colors and patterns I like best are the ones that look like they were cobbled together on evenings by the fire when the plains winter was howling outside the door. It is in winter, in fact, that I usually make quilts, which is a holdover from grad school, when I used to piece and quilt them by hand (fear of bobbin tension drove me to machineless sewing); few things warm you better in a room heated on a student budget than spreading a quilt over your lap as you work on it.

Maybe because it's winter and the plains wind has indeed been howling outside our door lately, but I've suddenly got a hankering to make one again. But first, I needed to address a problem that's been bugging me for the past couple of years, namely that there isn't really a good place for my sewing machine in this house. (Yes, that's right, I finally mastered the machine a few years ago. That's not to say I especially like it, but it is a lot faster to make a quilt with a machine than by hand, and remember, the pragmatic nature of the exercise is a big chunk of what appeals to me about it.) The same holds true for where I place my rotary wheel cutting mat. Coffee tables are too low to be comfortable, kitchen tables are too high.

So since the winter weather was prohibiting me from working on my planned holiday project, a compost fence, I decided to start a quilt, and I decided to start it from scratch. That is to say, before I spent one more day being uncomfortable at the sewing machine (therbligs again), I was going to build a pull-out shelf in my study for the machine and cutting mat. I've worked on it for the past couple of days, and here's the finished product:

I used full extension drawer slides rated to hold one hundred pounds, scrap wood, and some left-over yellow paint (Laura Ashley Gold 3, if you care to know). The shelf is just the right height to sit in my back-friendly study chair while working, and there is still enough room to store two filing cabinets below it. I plan to use it to support my drawing board as well, since my knees aren't what they used to be (I usually draw sitting on the floor).

Now on to the next step: the actual making of the quilt. But first, you must excuse me while I go check my bobbin tension.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A simple journal for left-handers who like to keep their pencils handy. (And for other people, too.)

What I want in a journal is pretty simple, really. I want good drawing paper, I want a way to store a pencil so I don't have to go looking for one, I want it to lie completely flat so it is easy for a lefty to use*, and, if possible, I want it to have pages that I can remove for scanning and then put back.

It doesn't seem like such a terribly long accounting of needs, but not one of those journals you see up there on my bookshelf fulfills the items on that list. So a couple of weeks ago, I thought I'd see if I could cobble up something that would make me happy.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Seed Order for a Snowy Farm

The farm under a blanket of snow, seen through my study window

I have been strangely procrastinatory-ish in ordering seeds this year, though I don't know exactly why. Perhaps it was the lingering memory of last year's disaster on the farm; perhaps it was a busy school term and the inability to turn my thoughts toward spring; perhaps it was just that my head cold was making me feel all wonky-headed and lethargic. Whatever the reason, when my seed catalog came in the mail, I just couldn't seem to make myself sit down and look at it.

But then we got the snow. And the howling winds. And the Christmas music permeating though the house. And suddenly it felt like the right thing to do.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from Mr. Sun (and our front door)

Walu and I are having lunch today with neighbors--my sometime training buddy, Homicide Dick Dave*, and his lovely wife, British Liz--to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas, so I'm leaving Mr. Sun in charge of The Bike Garden greeting duties for the duration.

As an aside: I have to bring a ham as part of my contribution to the lunch. But I've lived with a vegetarian for nigh on 17 years, how the heck am I supposed to know how to prepare meat? So, yes, I took the coward's path and bought a pre-cooked one at the Honey Glazed Ham Co. And another yes, I know ham is not a traditional Hanukkah meal, but Dave said it would be OK.

I'm also making green chile stew, a vegetarian version with black beans, and a meat version with beef (both yummy and hearty).

Finally, in a fit of madness, I've decided to make Fridays "Cartoon Day at The Bike Garden." I have no idea how long I can keep these up, but they amuse me for now. Fair warning, however: I am notoriously distractible and may forget by as early as next week that I am on a schedule, so don't go placing any bets on the regularity of this feature. (Unless the bet is with me, in which case I could clean up and take that early retirement of which I've been dreaming.)

In honor of last week's commencement ceremonies, here is the inaugural Friday Bike Garden Cartoon, "The Graduate":

James had his own reasons to be concerned about
inappropriate graduation footwear.

I hope all y'all have a safe and happy holiday season. I'll be back in the Bike Garden tomorrow with a special report on how to make a simple nature or garden journal for left-handed people (all you lefties know why this is important). Until then ciao, bella! Enjoy the festivities and don't eat too much pumpkin pie.

*Editorial Note: Homicide Detective Dave continues to raise a strenuous objection to his nickname. However, The Bike Garden is not now nor ever has been in charge of the "Detective Nicknaming Committee" and so disavows all responsibility for any reckless literary references to Dick Tracy which may occur.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Breaking news: Book is in. Author gets vapors.

I just got a call from my publisher reporting that my book is back from the printer and a box of copies is on the way to my house. I find this news a bit surreal.

I checked Amazon, and the book's status has gone from "available for pre-order" to "in stock."

And! Ooh, ooh! And! Here's the best part: Someone is already selling a used copy for $108.12, to which I reply, "Hahahahahaha!"

$108.12. That's pretty amusing. And unrealistic.

And surreal.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Backstage: Academic frippery, explained

After the closing processional, in the bowels of the arena.

I love the ceremony associated with commencement. I love the colors, the formality, the symbolism. I love that it reaches back, deep into the tradition of the academy of learning. The hood--that draped fabric with all the color that is worn over the shoulders--evolved from the cleric's cowl, worn for warmth in the cold halls of the early universities. The hoods fold back to reveal the silk colors of the schools from which we obtained our terminal degrees, and marks our individual academic lineages.  In this way, it links us to other institutions of learning and represents a kind of academy family tree.

The width of the velvet on the hood varies according to whether it represents a bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree, and the color of the velvet on the collar denotes the field of study. For example, the color blue symbolizes a Doctor of Philosophy, but you may choose to have gold velvet instead, which represents the field of science (most Ph.D.s simply choose what is call "Ph.D. blue").

That fold in the rear of the hood creates a little pocket, and I once was told by a colleague that traditionally, if the students liked a monk's teaching, they would slip coins in there. I related this story once while waiting in the faculty line for commencement to begin, and when I got home, I found a dollar bill in the pocket of my hood.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Austin trip report/Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I drove to Galveston for a conference a few weeks ago and on the return, I stopped for a night to stay with friends in Dripping Springs, a little town just outside of Austin. It had been a long, exhausting trip, and it was a joy to sit on the back porch and catch up on news. Part of that catching up was a look at some of the projects underway on the homestead. Kambra has started beekeeping, so naturally, we had to check out the hive (sadly, I was so engrossed, I forgot to take pictures). That adventure went pretty well, but it was a rainy day and bees don't care to have the hive disturbed when the weather isn't good (who would?). So since the girls were a little agitated, we spent just a few minutes with them. It was long enough for me to get a sense of what was going on, though, and intriguing enough that I'm wondering about installing a hive in my own backyard. I'll return for another visit, I'm sure, and next time I'll be prepared to make a more thorough report.

Dave is no slacker in the project department, either. He works for a professional cyclist from Austin, and he has recently been building a rolling bike shop, which is housed in the back of a van.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A chicken interlude

Pearl just couldn't put her finger on why she wasn't fitting in
with the other med students.

In which I nervously move a favorite tree...

The weekend was relatively balmy, and so that opened a window of opportunity for transplanting a desert willow from the back yard to the front. There was just the little problem of the flare-up of my occasionally wonky disc between L4 and L5, and the pain it causes when I bend forward. Yes, perfect gardening weather and a bad back. Can there be a better description for frustration?

Nevertheless, I persisted, and even managed to get the new hole dug before finally admitting defeat and calling in reinforcements. Help arrived in the form of husband Walu and neighbor Kurt, shown here digging a root ball for the willow:

The tree is a favorite of mine, for its graceful and elegant openness, and its lovely wine-colored flowers. It was just in the wrong spot, having been planted a few years ago with the idea that it would provide shade to our back patio. But the leaves are too sparse to really do that, and the spot in which it is planted has since been overrun by an ever-expanding raised planter bed. In cutting down the overgrown juniper in the front yard earlier this year, I opened up a space for the willow, a much more suitable tree for that garden.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A promise of color to come

It's finals week, so postings may be a little sporadic. I did have a break from work over the weekend, however, since I was caught up on grading and my final exams were not until Monday. So I took advantage of the lull in action by sneaking out to the garden, where there was also a timely lull in the cold weather. One of the items on agenda was the long overdue sprucing up of the shutters on the front of the house. Virginia creeper climbs over and around them, wrecking the paint and, occasionally, actually pulling them away from the house. So I scraped and repaired and slapped on a fresh coat of paint. All of which is not all that interesting, except perhaps for the fact that I decided to change colors, going from a subdued gray to a relatively more vibrant rust/deep terra cotta. Here are some before and after shots:

There wasn't anything wrong with the gray color, but the palette of a xeric garden tends to be heavy on the gray-green anyway, and when you add in a little winter dormancy, the whole thing can start to look pretty bland and dreary. I don't mind the look of a sleeping garden too much, since I know that come spring and summer (along with the addition of some new plants in the freshly-formed arroyo planting bed you see to the right of the sidewalk), the whole thing will be calm and restful, and not dreary at all. On the matter of dormancy, though: Are we not meant to scale back on the full-tilt rocketry of life from time to time? Dampen our riotous blooms a bit? Doesn't it rest our spirits and allow us to recharge? So, too, the garden. Leave it be.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Coop plans

"Well. I'm not feeling any pressure. Are you?"

I want to build a chicken coop in the spring and so have been looking into small coop designs. It seems that the needs of chickens are few: a roost, a nest box, ventilation, and light. And though I plan to let them out to roam the farm area during the day, I'd also like to have an enclosed pen for their own protection. I've found a couple of designs that I like, one of which, "The Playhouse Coop," I actually purchased plans for some time ago. I've misplaced those plans, however, which leaves me in a bit of a pickle. I'll keep looking for them over the weekend and see if they turn up.

In the meantime, I have another chicken-related project ahead of me this winter: a compost fence.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hmmm. Can anyone identify this white stuff for me?

We got a phone call yesterday around 6:30 in the morning from the university's automated emergency notification system, telling us that classes had been canceled until 10 AM. This was the reason why:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

School is almost done for the year. It must be time to clean out the woodshop.

The weather has turned cold on us, making the thought of working outside rather unappealing, even for someone who hates to be inside for any reason. So as soon as classes have ended on Wednesday, I'm headed to my woodworking shop to work on reducing a backlog of projects. I haven't done any woodworking in a while, though, so that means that the shop is in some disarray. I'll need to get in there and clean it up before I can start the real work.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bike Garden Open House: I blame the blogroll

It all started because the blogroll had gotten out of hand. It was too long--it dangled down like a monkey tail and made the page look all wonky and out of sorts. I tried fixing it. I tried to compress the blogroll by just listing the names and not the title snippets from posts, but that didn't work because if I took away those snippets, then how would I know when something new was up?

I tried including more of my own posts on the page to balance the look of things, but that didn't work either because it made the page go on, and on, and on. Visually, blog posts are kind of like sandwiches made from leftover Christmas ham: The first three are fine. After that you start to lose interest.

I even (briefly, mind you) thought about editing out some of the blogs. But I just couldn't do it. They are on the blogroll to begin with because they are my favorites. Worse, I even added a few here and there because I couldn't help myself as I kept finding new ones worth reading. The list got longer. The blog got more unwieldy.

So finally, I decided the only thing left to do was to create a new, separate page, just for the blogs. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I could have a whole page devoted to my favorites, and I could even highlight links to posts I liked. After all, if I get some enjoyment out of reading a post, why shouldn't I point others in that direction?

And as long as I was going to do that...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday fence repair

Well, it's been an interesting week in the Bike Garden. First, there was the big make-over of the blogsite (I'll do an open house post tomorrow, but it is essentially finished).

Then there was the snow:

And then there was the person who lost control of a car and drove across our front garden...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A holiday interlude

I'm closing in on the final tweaks to the new blog design, and hope to be finished with it sometime today. In the meantime, I thought I'd share a chicken with you while I play with some HTML coding to to see if I can make an x-large image fit...

I promised you chickens, didn't I?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Welcome to the Construction Zone

Over the next few days, I'll be setting up the new pages and moving things over to them, so things will be a little chaotic for a bit. Once I am finished, though, I'll put up an "open house" post and give everyone a little tour.

In the meantime, grab a mug of coffee and a hard hat, and feel free to wander around the construction site, checking out all the exposed plumbing and wiring.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New Look for the Bike Garden

Greetings, all. I've been working on a re-design for the Bike Garden blog. The one that I have now has just gotten too unwieldy and disorganized. The new template, which I hope to launch tomorrow, will have a home page and links to some sub-pages instead of several lists in a side bar. Unfortunately, there may be a few days in which things will be missing as I transfer them from the lists to the new pages, but if you'll bear with me, I think the ultimate design will be much cleaner and easier to navigate.

Hope to see you on the other side!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving interlude

One of a series of stones with lines from a poem by John Noelke, in a public garden in San Angelo, Texas.

The poem, "More Than Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Sculpture," was written to go with his sculpture, "The Angelas," and was inspired by Wallace Stevens' poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."

This particular line resonated with me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I have gone over to the dark side

My neighbors' trees, lovely, and rich with autumn leaves:

 And the trees are not only rich, they are generous, too, for each autumn they like to donate their leaves to my garden:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"What makes the water holy..."

"...she says, is that it's the closest thing to rain."

--Josh Ritter,"Wings"

I went to lunch with my old college roommate yesterday and came home with rocks. After our chiles rellenos, I took Barbara, who is also a former geologist, to my favorite local stone yard and she was as enamored with the place as I always am. I've been wanting to make a new watering hole for the birds in the front garden, so we wandered around until we found the ideal couple of chunks to use as a backdrop. We lugged them home in Walu's Scion and unloaded them in the new arroyo/planting bed next to the wine patio, where I will be able to sit and watch the birds come in to drink. This morning I grabbed a copper basin I had lying around the yard and made a small altar for water under the chaste tree.

As I worked, I was reminded of this favorite line from Josh Ritter's song. As a child of deserts and prairies, it perfectly describes how I feel about the gift that is a humble pool of water.

Friday, November 20, 2009

HGTV: Always Good for a Laff

You know what I mean? Why on earth would they think I'd want Niagara Falls in my back yard? Lookit, I know they think that all Americans believe that bigger is better, but actually, there are quite a few of us who don't buy into that, and our idea of a water feature does not include something that looks like it belongs in an amusement park.

Niagara Falls, 1850's, Anonymous; Image in the Public Domain

And yet, our friends at HgTV insist on creating programming that panders to the Cult of Big. You know what I mean. In fact, it is my understanding that there is a new spring line up of shows that will focus solely on this perceived trend. Here are a few of the proposed titles:

"My Really Really Big (Bigger than Yours) House Renovation"

"The 'It's All About the Money' Dream House"

"In Which We Dig Up an Acre of of Perfectly Good Land and Replace it with an 'Eco-Friendly' Flagstone Landscape and Faux Waterfall, Compleat with Outdoor Television and Man Cave, Because Lord Knows, We Watch So Much Television, We Even Need to Watch It When We are Outside"

And then finally, with a patronizing nod to those of us who are on a budget:

"How to Build Inexpensive Things for Your Garden That Will Fall down or Look Like Crap in a Year"

 But I digress. This is really a post about water features, and more specifically, how to build them to look natural. And in honor of the Cult of Big, I'm going to let you in on a big secret:

Don't build them big.

Think about it. How many times have you been walking through the countryside when you suddenly come across a towering pile of same-sized boulders, squeezed like a chunky sausage into a narrow ravine, down which flows a tumble of water? I'm just going to guess, but I'll bet the answer is almost never. This is because,

A) Rocks don't pile up like that naturally
B) Most of us don't have full-sized mountains in our backyards. Some of us might, I'll grant you, but most of us don't.

Instead, we are much more likely to stumble across something that looks like this:

This most excellent water feature can be found at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. Diminutive and unassuming, it could be a small seep or spring that we might come upon in our perambulations of a quiet evening.

But besides being pocket-sized, there are other things that make it look natural, such as rocks in a variety of dimensions, with none so big we would need a skid steer to move them (okay, maybe one or two needed a skid steer). They are also in a variety of shapes, though most of them are more flattish than roundish.* Some stones are partially buried, while other stick up just a bit.  Plants grow like weeds between them (plants do that in nature, you know), and there are many different kinds of plant textures and shapes as well. Finally, as it is wont to do over time, dirt (not soil, not turf--plain old dirt) has filled in the voids. In short, there is diversity in size, shape, and placement of the rocks around the water, and it is not a towering pile.

Why can't HgTV show us how to do that? Maybe it's because it takes more careful thought than money.

Finally, here's another reason that smaller is better for water features: less surface area equals less evaporation. If we must have some sort of garden structure as a monument to water, then we should truly honor it by not being wasteful.

*Here's a tip: It is easier to make a flattish rock look as if it was deposited naturally than a roundish rock. I'll explain why in a future post, when I cover stream systems. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

Can't see it? How about now:

There is nothing in nature that would deposit rocks in this hodgepodge, many-lone-rocks-sitting-out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere pattern except a glacier. In fact, this type of deposition "pattern" is so erratic that geologists call the rocks left behind by glaciers...well, erratics. The problem is, there has never been a glacier in LBB. Not even back before LBB was LBB.

Every time I stop at this intersection, I have to avert my eyes. Clearly, someone thought, "We'll add boulders to the landscape! A bunch of boulders! Boulders make things look great!"

Well, yes, I have to agree that boulders look great in a landscape, but they should look like something that might actually occur in nature. Or, failing that, they should at least offer a reference to it.

I could see how the designer could have made this mistake, though, since taken in segments, as discrete tableaus, it doesn't look too bad:

Even this scene has a certain poignancy, as if the erratics were deposited there in order to suggest to the viewer that the gas prices sign is really a tree:

It is when they are dribbled out in a line along the planting strip that the design breaks down. Even if paying homage to the natural is not a designer's intention, there should at least be places in the composition for the eye to come to rest. But stringing individual boulders out like this give one the jumpy eye.

I'm afraid I couldn't get a shot to give you the full effect, since the best angle for that is in the middle of the intersection, and this was late in the day and evening rush hour traffic was at its peak. But this view might give you some idea of the overall look:

I don't mean to be unkind with my criticism here, but as a former geologist, I have to confess that it pains me to see rocks abused in landscapes. And yet, I can understand how it happens. People like rocks. I know this for a fact because I see them spending the equivalent of the national debt on HGTV hiring some guy with a truck and a plan to build "natural" water features/retaining walls/dry stream beds with them.

But, oy, those water features/retaining walls/dry stream beds don't always look so good. And I can understand how this happens, too. The landscapers goes down to the stone yard and orders up a truckload or two of big boulders or gravel, thinking that the mere addition of them to the landscape--without a real understanding of the environment they are trying to create--would enhance the scene. But we wouldn't assume that about plants, would we?

So lookit, as a public service to those HGTV guys, I've decided to start an informal series on designing with rocks and call it something clever like...oh, let's about, "Hardscaping should not be hard."

I don't really have a detailed plan; I just thought maybe I'd show some design hits and misses from time to time, maybe talk about how rocks behave in nature, maybe talk about other kinds of hardscaping, maybe muse a little about the meaning of it all--I dunno. My plan is kind of...erratic at this point.

But the rocks in my landscape are not.

Editorial note: The original photos were replaced with ones taken earlier in the day for better light.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The "Show Yer Compost Bin" Challenge

One of the things I like about the blogosphere are the occasional calls for a community-wide response to a posting challenge. Dee at Red Dirt Ramblings and Carol at May Dreams Gardens are among the best at this, and together they've come up with another one: Show us your compost bins.

Now, while I always enjoy reading all the terrific postings in response to the calls, I've seldom participated, not because I'm anti-social (though a case could probably be made for that), but because I don't often have anything all that interesting to offer.  For example, the most famous of these challenges, Garden Blogger's Bloom Day, which was Carol's brilliant idea and occurs on the 15th of each month, always mysteriously falls right before or right after anything is actually blooming in my tiny, nearly flowerless garden. I swear, it's the truth. I mean, it's not that I don't like flowers; they just aren't the main emphasis in my xeric garden. Interesting foliage, yes. Rock, yes. Landscape design, yes. Veggies, yes.

Any flowers that actually appear are almost a side effect. Shocking, I know. Please don't hate me.

But with compost bins, we're talking garden structure, my friends, and if there's anything I can talk about ad infinitum, it's building stuff. Plus, this concerns issues of sustainability and self-sufficiency, both of which are also subjects near and dear to me. So Dee and Carol, here we go:

The two bins, awaiting instruction from the gardener.

A little shot showing part of the construction.

My homemade compost aerator. This is simply a ground auger, available at most hardware stores for a minimal amount of money. I've stuck a wooden handle to it to make it easy to turn, but all you really need is a stick to slip through the loop on top and you're in business. Here is an older post about it. All that said, you don't have to aerate compost bins in order to get compost. If you throw a bunch of leaves, grass clippings, kitchen waste, dryer lint--heck, just about anything that is organic--in a tall mound, compost will eventually happen, given enough time. The only thing you shouldn't throw in there is meat, cheese (or other dairy products), and pet waste. Aerating may speed up the process (as will keeping the matter a little damp and adding a bit of garden soil to introduce the decomposer microbes to the mix), but it's really just something gardeners do because they like poking sticks into big steaming piles of rot.

A shot of how the front of the bins work. Each of those boards has a largish hole drilled on either end. These holes slip over lag bolts screwed into the posts. The head of the lag bolt sits proud about one inch, and the holes fall behind the head, which holds the boards in place. Click on the photo for a close-up view. The design is loosely based on plans I read in some book somewhere, many, many years ago. Sorry, can't remember where--just want to acknowledge that someone else thought up the clever lag bolt thing first.

The wood is cedar (oh, and as an aside, this is definitely one place I wouldn't use pressure treated materials). I've had these going on a decade now, and given the excellent condition they're in, I'd say they're probably good for another score of years before they disintegrate completely. So I'd vote for cedar in the next election, too. And yes, I plan still to be gardening and building stuff then.

In the vignette above, I am preparing to dump two bags of horse manure into the pile. Again, manure is not necessary for composting, but it's kind of nifty to see what happens when you do add it, which is shown in the next photo:

Yes, that is steam, rising from the decomposing pile. Really, really cool. Or, um, hot.
Excuse me for just a minute, I need to go find a stick to poke in that.

This is the compost sieve I use--an old metal garden gate with some hardware wire stretched across it. As it happens, it fits perfectly over my wheelbarrow.

And the finished product.

It's as easy as pie--you don't even need fancy bins like mine, since a big ole' pile of leaves in a corner of the garden, left for a few months, will take care of the action all by itself. If you want to mix in kitchen scraps, then you might want more of a container. Even better would be to build a worm-bin, which is on my own next-to-do project list.

Truthfully, I just like building things. And poking sticks in things.

Anyway, if you aren't already composting, there's no good reason not to start. So get on out there, rake some leaves, toss in some kitchen scraps, season with a dash of local soil, and cook up some rot.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

My new garden tool an adorable little 4x6 trailer from Tractor Supply:

I can't think why it took me so long to do this. For years I've paid ridiculous delivery fees for rocks and gravel, or borrowed other people's trucks or trailers to haul around big stuff, or struggled to fit eight board feet of lumber in six feet of space in a car, and each time I'd think, "I really need a small truck."

But I had no interest in owning a truck as an extra vehicle; I'd only use it a couple of dozen trips a year, and then the rest of the time it would sit around taking up space.

Nor did it make sense to sell my car and replace it with a truck, which isn't as fuel efficient, just because I need the hauling capacity a few times a year.

So I dilly-dallied and dragged my feet, all the while resenting those hefty fees and inconvenient delivery schedules. And it was especially annoying this fall, when I was working on the front garden. Installing an homage to an arroyo apparently takes a lot of rock.

And then, a stroke of brilliance: A trailer would solve my problems. It is cheap, easy to store, and doesn't require extra fuel except when in use.

I did a little research and found out that a 2002 Subaru Outback is rated to haul 2000 pounds with trailer brakes and 1000 without.* Since I probably wouldn't load the trailer with any more than I could move in a single day, my heaviest cargo would probably only be around 600 pounds or so.

There were some things I needed to make happen to in order to enter this amazing new world of hauling-ness. First I had to get a hitch and wiring for the wagon. Then I had to march down to the state office and pick up a "Texas Trailer" license plate (boy howdy, does that ever make me feel like using a drawl). And then finally, today I painted a piece of exterior grade plywood to use as a floor for the trailer (otherwise, all that gravel will just wiggle on through the bottom):

The paint color is suspiciously like that of our house trim. Not sure how that happened.

Having a trailer around makes me feel all moxie and can-do, and that is just fine with me, since I can't abide a helpless woman, even when she is me. This strikes me as both a self-sufficient and sustainable approach to a problem.

I figure that ten trips hauling stuff and the trailer will have paid for itself. So if you need me to haul that antique bureau you found in a dumpster, or a load of fencing supplies, or a bushel or eight of fresh corn, just give me a call. I aim to amortize this thing toute suite.

Oh, and by the way, I am already working toward that amortization, since I used it to carry home the plywood I am using for the floor. I can count that, can't I?

Nine more trips to go.

*It's my understanding that a 2009 Outback is rated to haul even more--up to 3000 pounds. I'm passing along this info not to tout the virtues of Subarus, but to illustrate that our cars may be more utilitarian than we give them credit for being. In fact, what really convinced me to take the plunge and get a small trailer, is seeing a huge one behind a Saturn Vue, driven by someone replacing part of my driveway. That trailer was in turn loaded with 10-12 bags of concrete. That's behind a hybrid, people! Once I saw that, the tiny can-do wheels in my brain started churning...

So if, like me, you've been agitating over the "I need a small truck question," do a little research and find out what your car is capable of doing. I found my info in the service manual that came with mine.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Busy Week at the Bike Garden

Janisse Ray is coming, y'all. For the faithful LBB friends of the Bike Garden (FLFBG?), she'll be doing a reading on Friday at 8 PM, on the TTU campus, in ENGL 001. Ray wrote Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, which has won all sorts of awards, most notably, the American Book Award. It's a memoir of her childhood growing up in a junkyard in southern Georgia, and if that doesn't sound interesting to you right there, I just don't know what else to say.

Ray is a wickedly passionate advocate for the environment, and will probably have a few words to share about that, too. Plus, she's just as nice as can be.

Come on out. Bring a book for her to sign--if you don't have one of your own, I'm working on getting few copies to sell after the reading (though I can't guarantee it) we'll have plenty of copies at the reading (they will also be available in the Barnes and Noble Bookstore on campus from now until Friday). Cookies and amusing cheeses will be served. I think.

Anyway, I have much to do to get ready for it, on top of the usual mess that is my life, so my own traffic in the BGarden may be light this week. I have a lot of garden and bike stuff to report from the trip, though, so I'll try my best to get some of it posted as soon as I am able.

Oh, and for those of you who would like to hear about Natural History and Humanities news like this, you can now become a fan of NHH on Facebook. Just go there and type the name of the program into the search box and sign up. 

Monday, November 9, 2009

Morning Comes to the Seawall, Galveston, Texas

As seen while eating my breakfast.

While going through photos of my trip, this one struck me as interesting in that the colors in the concrete seem, oddly, to mirror those of the earth, sea, and sky. Click on the photo to enlarge it for the full effect...

What trick of light is this, what corporal jest, that one should become the other?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Butterflies, et cetera, in Galveston

It's been a busy week at CAST, but I've taken breaks off and on to stroll through a small garden on the premises here at Moody Gardens, where I found a gazillion butterflies busy working the flowers. The only camera I had with me was my iPhone, so the quality of the photos is not stellar, but here are a few shots:

A Red Admiral

Two Monarchs, um,  stuck together.

A Queen.

I am no butterfly expert, but I was able to identify the Monarch and Queen with Meredith's help from her recent post on Great Stems, and the Red Admiral with help from my friend Zoeann Stinchcomb, from Texas Parks and Wildlife (TP&W), who was also here at the conference.

There is also an very nice aquarium here, and as I am a sucker for them, I naturally had to take a look:

That last shot was a school of fish swimming over my head as I walked through a tunnel of water. I loved the swirl of light and dark.

I've also taken time to eat, as well one might, and went out for food with a couple of people from TP&W at the Mosquito Cafe, which was hit hard in last year's Hurricane Ike. Here's a plaque on the wall that commemorates the high water mark, with Zoeann standing in front of it for scale:

The restaurant has been completely renovated and it shines with spit and polish. The food was great, too, though I presume that spitting and polishing were not involved in its preparation.

I head home today, with a detour through Austin. Pam at Digging has suggested stopping off at Ima Hogg's garden in Houston--I am tempted, but I'm going to have to see how the time goes. It's been a long week and I feel beat down, but a stop at a garden might just be the ticket to perk me back up.