Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Moving On Up

The kids moved the chicks from their brooder/tractor into the big girl yard.  They were thrilled!  And a little intimidated.  Those big hens and roosters and turkeys can be a bit much when you're only six inches tall.  It was like watching preschoolers walk onto a middle-school playground during lunch recess.  Cedar and Sequoia made sure that they were safe though.  They got the heat lamp all set up for the babes and showed them repeatedly where the food and water is located in their new diggs.  They happily ran all over the place all afternoon and evening, occasionally getting herded around by a rooster.  They were so overjoyed with all the new space, in fact, that they didn't want to go into the coop to roost once it started getting dark out.  Steve had to go out and shuffle the little feather balls into the coop and under the heat lamp.  They are all resting there peacefully now.

Things are continuing to spring on ahead here despite the very wet and cold weather we are having.  Last week was gorgeous.  Lots of sunshine and blue sky.  However, now we are back to the typical temperate rainforest springtime weather.  Sunny weather does not usually settle in here until about the last week in June or first week of July.  Until then, one can count on cool with a chance of rain just about every day.  Yesterday we got an amazing rainbow out of the deal though.  It was a rainbow just like this one that made me first fall in love with this little piece of land six years ago....

More homestead goodness...

the kids moved compost to their spiral garden

sowing seeds

transplanting herbs - this echinacea will be happy here, I think

hello Bloody Dock

red flowering currant - a favorite native

asian pear blossoms opening

oh, how I wish I could eat these guys!
not for another year...

And, wow!  I can't wait to harvest these guys as well!

first morels of the season in our garden

Sequoia found them while hunting for slugs!
Steve had to go to Seattle yesterday to speak in front of the National Organic Standards Board.  He was making a plea for stronger rules on truth in labeling regarding organic vs non-organic products.  The kids and I decided to tag along and make a day of it in the city.  We spent the afternoon at the Seattle Aquarium with Grandma Linda.  I forgot my camera in the car, so not too many good photos to share.  I will, however, share this one with you because I am totally smitten.

Meet Barney.  He is a Northern Fur Seal who is 26 years old and is so used to working with his humans that he gets his teeth brushed with an electric toothbrush every day.  His playmate "Q", was also very sweet, but very shy.  But not Barney.  He and I made eyes at each other for a long time.  The kids literally had to drag me away from Barney.  I'll say it again... I was totally smitten.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Them Dirty Dogs!

Yesterday morning as Sequoia sat on the couch rubbing the sleep from her eyes, I mentioned, "Wow kiddo, your feet sure are dirty...."  She extended her legs out in front of her and gave her blackened, smudged, and calloused dogs an evaluating look - similar to how someone might examine a new pair of shoes.  She smiled and said, "I know.  Aren't they beautiful?  They're just how I like them to be."

Have I mentioned how much I love my kids?

Saturday marked the most looked forward to celebration in our neck of the woods each year.  Olympia's Arts Walk and Procession of the Species.  It is a wonderful grassroots parade and celebration that truly brings the community together.

Arts Walk actually happens twice each year, once in the spring and once in the fall.  It's a city wide honoring of local artists and businesses.  All the locally owned businesses downtown open their walls and spaces up to artists (of any age - my kids have had lots of artwork up in the past) to display their work.  All the streets of downtown are closed down for the evening and it becomes one huge street party.

Procession of the Species is a parade honoring the earth and life on this planet.  It is a completely community based, grassroots event.  Seven weeks prior to the event, a non-profit organization opens up a community art studio where anyone can go to create, create, create!  They offer workshops and arts and craft supplies galore so that anyone who wishes to may build whatever their imagination can conjure.  There are floats, costumes, dance troups, puppets, marching bands, drum circles... you name it, it's probably represented.  Wikipedia actually has a pretty good description and history of the event here.

Here is a video from this year's 17th annual Procession of the Species.  Enjoy!

Many of the people in the procession are friends and folks that I work with.  So fun to watch them in their glory!  I'd post some photos, but my computer is having problems uploading.  Maybe soon?

I'm anxiously whiling away the minutes until an unexpected root canal after a long weekend of pain.  Ugh!  Good thing the procession and a visit with friends gave me some joyful distraction!  Wish me luck!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Super Spring Tonic Tea

The world's greatest spring tonic tea:    
  • roasted dandelion root
  • roasted burdock root
  • nettle leaves
  • calendula flowers
  • oat tops
  • licorice root 
This tea is both delicious and nutritious!  It is has a deep earthy flavor sweetened delightfully by the licorice root.  I mix the herbs in equal quantities (sometimes a little more nettles for an extra boost or extra oat tops for a little more calming tea) and then scoop about 2 tablespoons into a stainless steel pot.  I pour about a quart of cold water over the herbs, bring the mixture up to boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer.  I allow the tea to decoct for 20 minutes or so, then remove from the heat and keep covered for about 5 to 10 more minutes.  Strain off the herbs and transfer the tea into a quart-sized mason jar.  The liquid has reduced and concentrated the herbs quite a bit over the course of the decoction, so throughout the day when I want a fresh hot cup, I simply pour some tea from the jar into a cup and add freshly boiled water until I get my desired temperature and tea strength.  I love this tea and have been drinking it frequently since spring began popping up all around me!

(Anyone who may try this recipe please note that licorice root is not recommended for those very high blood pressure, dandelion root should be used with caution for those with gallstones, and nettles act as diuretic and can, therefore, lower blood pressure.  As with all herbs, please consider your own body and wellbeing and always use with respect and caution.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Herb Spirals and Spiral Gardens

About a week ago, someone asked about our spiral garden.  Ours happens to be a huge variation on the Herb Spiral.  Herb Spirals are a cool way of taking a traditional row of herbs and twisting it up into a space saving, multi-micro-climate little herb garden.

Here is a design by Bill Mollison:

Not only are herb spirals pretty to look at if done well, but more importantly they create several different micro-climates for your herbs.  The top of the spiral will have drier soil than the lower part as it drains through the day.  The side facing the sun will be considerably warmer than the one facing away from the sun.  The side facing the sunrise will warm earlier in the day and maintain a more even and gentle heat than the side facing the hot afternoon sun.  Therefore, you can plant a great diversity of herbs in your spiral meeting their many varied needs.  Herbs that like heat and well drained soil, such as rosemary, can be planted towards the top of the spiral facing the afternoon sun.  Those that like things cooler and wetter and would bolt if exposed to too much heat can be placed accordingly.  Bill's above example also includes a small pond at the bottom to grow water plants such as watercress and water chestnut.  This also gives the added benefits of ecological diversity, reflected sunlight from the pond surface, more edge, providing a habitat for frogs which love to hunt pests, and a water source for many beneficial pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. 

Herb Spirals are generally quite small (about 1-2 meters wide and tall), as they are designed to be space saving, user friendly and easily watered with just one sprinkler.  Our spiral garden that I mentioned in Going Rogue is huge by comparison.  But it is basically the same concept.  It is about 10 meters wide and 2 meters high and has a gigantic Big Leaf Maple growing at the center.  There are very large boulders along the tier edges as opposed the football-sized rocks generally used in herb spirals.  We have yet to put in a pond, but it is in the plans.  The design of our garden allows for cool loving crops to be grown on the shaded side all summer long.  Not only is it facing away from the sun, but it is also shaded by the maple.  And heat-loving plants do quite well on the sunny side because they get both the heat from the sun and the reflected heat from the large boulders.

the sun-facing side of our spiral garden
Our spiral garden is home to many different perennial fruits such as raspberry, gooseberry, jostaberry, strawberry and fig.  It also houses many annuals in the summer - lettuce, kale, spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts, summer and winter squash, etc.  We are also sure to plant lots of annual flowers each year to attract beneficial insects and birds and provide pollen and nectar for the honey bees.

not much going on yet since it is still so early in the season
The spiral garden belongs to the kids.  It is their experimental zone and they get to choose what goes in each year.  We, of course, help direct them as to ideal placement, but for the most part, it's their thing.  They get to design and learn all about different plants and micro-climates and, most importantly I think, learn from experience what works and what doesn't.  They get to make their own choices, see what happens through the season, and learn from it so that they can improve upon it the next year.  I don't want my kids to take for granted whatever some "expert" tells them they should do.  I want them to experiment and think for themselves.  Who knows what cool thing they'll figure out that you or I never thought of?  

Monday, April 18, 2011

Oh, What a Weekend!

Wow, the last three days have been so jam packed, each day very different from the one before.  The weekend has left me exhausted, sore, sunburnt and oh so very happy.  Grab a cup of your favorite steamy beverage while I grab mine, snuggle in, and I'll tell you all about it.

Friday we hit the mountain.  They had gotten six inches of fresh powder the night before and it was still snowing strong when we got there.  Being a weekday in mid-April, there was hardly anyone there.  A powder day on an empty mountain!  Who can ask for more?  I suppose the one thing I might have asked for was for nice light powder.  Spring skiing and all, is was more peanut butter.  Up at the top of the mountain where we spent the whole day, it was cold enough that the snow stayed pretty nice.  Heavy and slow, but still pleasant nonetheless.  And oh, was it tiring!

For folks who do not snowboard or ski, riding heavy snow is truly like riding in peanut butter.  Imagine you are on some human powered vehicle - perhaps a bike or a skateboard or whatever - going downhill pretty fast and your wheels hit a big patch of thick, sticky peanut butter.  Yup, you guessed it.  Your mode of transport stops and your body keeps going with the momentum.  Needless to say, the day was filled with a lot of falling and laughing.  One header after another.  By the time I got to the bottom of the mountain at the end of the day, I was so tired and so sore, in the best way.  Hot cocoa never tasted so good!

On the way home, we had a little surprise detour planned for the kids.  We hopped off the highway, cruised some rural backroads and made our way to the Ritter Family farm.  We were met in the driveway by ten-year-old Quincy who greeted us kindly and lead us into the barn.  There, on the barn floor, was a big brooder full of peeping chicks.  The kids each got to pick out one White Leghorn to add to our little flock of chicks.

We've never raised White Leghorns before, but Steve and I had decided earlier in the spring that it would be fun to add a few white egg layers to the bunch.  Up until now, we've raise brown and blue egg layers.  We have one Polish who lays the occasional tiny white egg, but not enough to really spice up a dozen.

meet Starlight - our crazy Polish hen
The people who buy eggs from us love getting colorful dozens.  We figured that white eggs are no longer boring when mixed in with all shades of brown, pink, blue and green.  It only makes the dozen prettier!  (Am I the only person who looks at a basket full of eggs and thinks pure beauty while my breath catches slightly and my heart skips a beat?)  Welcome little ones.  We hope you like it here on the homestead!

OK, on to Saturday....  Steve summed the day up nicely when he told his brother that we spent the day moving thousands and thousands of pounds by hand.

We needed a load of aged manure delivered.  We were down to dregs of last year's pile and our hungry little homestead is crying for more.  It seems simple enough... call the guys down the road who we get great, rich, year-old organic cow manure from and ask them to bring on up the dump truck.  Ha!  The two cords of firewood that were still yet to be stacked were piled high right where the manure needed to be dropped.  So, Steve and I got cracking as early as our ski-battered bodies would allow on the project of splitting and stacking two cords of oak.  Luckily, we had been chipping away at in little 20 minute spurts throughout the week, so it was down to more like one and a quarter cords by the time we got to it Saturday morning.  We split and we stacked, and we split and we stacked.... until every last piece was neatly and tightly arranged in the woodshed.

I have learned that I have a talent I never knew about.  Apparently I am quite the wood stacker.  No wobbly uneven rows here.  No way.  Each piece fits like a key.  At one point early afternoon, Steve stopped short and gave me a quizzical look.  "What?" I ask, arms burning and covered in bark and dirt.  "Were you a Jenga champion before we met?" he asks.  It's funny, in all the years of dressing up like a business woman and playing "office" as a kid, I never thought in a million years that I would blush like a schoolgirl at a compliment regarding my wood-stacking skills.  But, there I was, bright pink, heart fluttering and grinning like a fool!  Oh, how times change.  It's so interesting discovering who we really are.

Once the wood was all tucked away, we then had to move what was left of last year's manure so it wouldn't get lost at the bottom of the pile again.  By, now it was getting very close to our scheduled two o'clock delivery, so Steve and I were frantically running wheelbarrow loads back and forth from the dump zone to the gardens.  We had just filled the barrow with its final load and dragged the tarp on which we have hundreds of raspberry canes heeled into soil to the side when the dump truck came rumbling into the driveway.  We got to see the drive clean and empty for all of a minute and half before a new mountain of steamy, wormy, fertile composted manure took over once again.  There wasn't even time to snap a photo to prove that it can actually clean up around here.  But hey, that's farm livin'.  And I couldn't be happier about it.

the raspberry clump
So, by the time the truck left, it was about 3:00 in the afternoon.  The kids had been great sports all day, preparing their own breakfast and lunch and playing happily together while Steve and I worked.  We decided to ride that wave of productivity and content, self-suffiient kids clear into the evening.  The plan was to simply clean out the chicken coop a bit and put down new straw.  Again, I say, "Ha!"  The next thing I knew, there Steve and I were completely tearing down and rebuilding the entire chicken yard.  There were fence posts everywhere, chicken wire strewn across the yard and chickens running amok and underfoot as we planned out what we were going to do next to fix this mess we had gotten ourselves into!

A few hours later, as the last light of the day was fading away, we stood ankle deep in fresh clean straw, very proud, content and tired in our remodeled chicken yard while the ladies settled themselves on their roosts for the night.  There was a sense of accomplishment and peace that I just can't find words to explain.  Every sweet, soft, contented coo that the ladies uttered as they fluffed out their feathers and nestled in among their flock echoed perfectly the deep feeling of aliveness, gratification and serenity radiating from my heart at that moment.

We lit a small bonfire and watched the moon rise and found the perfect end to an exhausting and wonderful day.

- happy birds in their new yard -
- where you see straw is just part of it -
- it extends far back into the woods behind the coops -

Now, if you think that's the end, think again!  That was only Saturday.  Now for Sunday....  Did you know you were embarking on a short book here today?

Steve's brother, Richard, was working up here in Washington last week and came down with another friend from Seattle to spend the day with us!  The morning kicked off with a delicious breakfast and mimosas at a great restaurant in town followed by a sunny walk to the farmer's market.  You just know it's going to be a good day when it starts out like that!  Eventually we made our way back here to the hill where we enjoyed a fabulous afternoon of jumping on the trampoline, swinging from the huge maple tree, cuddling adorable chicks, snacking profusely, planting seeds and starts, and generally laughing ourselves silly while having a great time.  Richard, Erin, Cedar and Sequoia also helped us put new greenhouse plastic on our hoop house.  And, the sun was shining the whole time!

The hoop house at sunrise this morning!
Despite the six wing-nuts working to put the plastic on, we were short a few when bolting the sheeting into place.
That's why you see that floppy edge on the bottom right.
We'll get some more hardware this week and get it all fixed up!

We also need to build the doors, but that shouldn't take too long.
Eventually, it did decide to cool off tremendously and rain for a while, so our party moved inside.  Soon after, I found myself nestled in by the woodstove knitting away on my sweater while everyone chatted happily making friendship bracelets together.  Seriously, can a weekend get any better?  David, our land-mate joined us for dinner and the night carried on in the same fashion as the day... gut-busting laughter, good food, and great company.

And, now, here I find myself.... The is sun shining through the window calling me outside for another day in this sweet little life I've chosen.  Can't wait to see what happens today!

almond blossoms at sunrise

early morning fog rising off the sound

World's greatest watchdog, sleeping on the job....

hazel fence - a work in progress

Handsome rooster "Junior" 

a face only a mother could love 

blue sky through the giant Big Leaf Maple that towers over our house
I've started calling her "Home-tree"


Asian Pear blossoms about ready to burst!

frost melts in the morning sun on new little shoots
I hope you had a great weekend, too, wherever you call home.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Sounds of Spring

A little video for your listening pleasure.  The sounds of spring here on the home front....

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hazel Weaving

It's a quiet morning here on the homestead.  We're all fighting a cold, which seems to put a gentle hush on everything.... Cedar is still sleeping, Sequoia is practicing spelling while her pumpkin bread bakes in the oven.  And I get to sit here in a quiet house with my hot cup of coffee!
Sequoia is having a matching cup of "coffee" with me this morning
Yesterday was pretty busy since the sun made several peek-a-boo appearances throughout the day.  My favorite project was working on a woven fence to protect these guys

from this guy.

beloved hound - squisher of freshly worked beds
We are coppicing hazels and maples for their suckers to use as trellises and fencing.  The hazel, in particular, is really fun to use because of its crooked branches.  They zig-zag like lightening bolts.  Plus, they are really pliable and flexible, making them both easy and pretty to use.  So... after feeding the asparagus some compost and interplanting broccoli and lettuce among the spears, I tried my hand at my first woven hazel fence.  My initial pass at it did not go quite as smoothly as I had hoped.  I placed the "posts" too far apart to have it be structurally sound.  I hope to work on it some more today if the rain holds off.  Stay tuned for photos of the finished product.

Cedar just woke up and the bread just came out of the oven, so I need to hop to other things....  More on the fence, homeschooling and the solarium coming soon!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Farm for the Future video

For folks wondering, "Why permaculture?", this is a great video.  It's just shy of an hour so you'll have to make some time for it, but it's a good watch.  Enjoy!

Fit for a Queen

Apparently my lovely flesh is just appealing enough that it lured a queen out of hiding.  Well, it probably wasn't really me who caused her flight, but I definitely got the brunt of her decision.  Saturday night as I lay in my bed just dozing off for the night, zing!, I get stung in the soft and very sensitive tissue of the inside of my upper arm.  Needless to say, it shocked me out of sleep.  I flailed like a startled newborn and shrieked at the top of my lungs.  Steve leaped out of bed in an instant (which is a remarkable feat since he sleeps like a dead man) and began ripping apart the bedding.  He spotted my attacker and took her down with a few vicious swats with a hair brush.  Once contained safely in a jar, we took a closer look at the source of my unwelcome wake-up call.  We discovered, staring menacingly back at us, no less than a queen.  Yes, I had been stung by a yellow jacket queen likely taking her maiden flight.  She was so big, we thought at first that she was a hornet.

In some ways it's all rather humorous.  I have odd luck with bees and wasps.  I prefer to call it "odd" rather than "bad" luck.  They really like me, in the, "Hi! How nice to meet you.  Now I'd really like to sting you for no good reason," way of liking me.  I am probably one of the few people you'll meet who can manage to get stung in her sleep by a yellow jacket in April when it's only 35 degrees outside.  But for me, it's totally normal, almost expected.

I am sure there is some special meaning in all this - getting stung in my sleep by a queen.  I just need to figure out what it is....

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Going Rogue

Ok... so my animals have turned on me and they are going rogue.  Remember the other day when I showed you the lovely sheet mulching in the garden using the chicken bedding/manure?  Well, the ladies are apparently trying to take it back!  I'm serious!  Each day, a few mischievous hens make a break for it and sneak their way into the garden to scratch the daylights out of those lovely beds.  Mulching scattered everywhere... everywhere that is except for where it's supposed to be!  Come on ladies, just let it go.  I want your straw and poop now.

This afternoon, I'm squatting in the raspberries (again) clearing a spot to transplant some new shoots and my dog strolls by.  He skirts past me and cruises right into the main veggie garden, where he knows he's not allowed.  I tell him to vamoose... "Out!" I say.  He casually glances over his shoulder at me as he continues his jaunt into the garden.  "Out of the garden!" I holler again.  One more dismissive glance tells me, basically, "Whatever lady."  He then trots into the hoop house, takes one more look at me, turns his back end in my general direction, and drops a dog bomb!  I kid you not!  The ultimate in the world of doggie defiance, a canine coup if you will.  Why do these animals thwart me?

Animal antics aside, my day was great!  Actually, both yesterday and today were wonderful.   Believe it or not folks, the sun actually came out!  Wahoo!  I love the sun.

Yesterday involved a spur-of-the-moment scavenger hunt.  I made and hid clever little clues all over the homestead for the kids to find, each one leading to the next.  They loved it and had a blast.  I adore sweaty, rosy-faced, happy kids.  I really do.  Here are a couple of yesterday's clues.  Leave me a comment with your best guess.

1) "You can call me Spotty.  You can call me Dotty.  But now I need to use the outdoor _______."

2) "They are so delicious and sweet,
      they makes me wiggle my feet.
      I begin to dance me a jig
      whenever I eats me a _____!"

Where would you look?

Here are some photos from today around here.  Enjoy!

happy raspberries
tomorrow they get a thick layer of maple chips mixed with mushroom spawn


Comfrey so determined to grow that it actually busted through the sheet mulching cardboard

Healthy comfrey that we love - a wonderful garden and compost helper

Hyacinth opening and smelling so sweet!
the new path I've been working on in the kids' spiral garden

the same path on the other side of the maple - plus bleeding heart!

gooseberries busting out of dormancy!

the bees are flying


the alder grove that will soon become a new garden

another path I've been working on leading to the orchard cottage
it'll be an office & craft space once completed

yet another path in progress - leading to the sauna
I love having huge chip piles ready for use!
just beyond the trees behind the sauna is where the new sheep pasture will be going

the babes are growing up!
they are enjoying their new tractor until they're ready to join the big birds
As you can see, spring is definitely in the air and there are lots of reminders everywhere.  I can't wait to get back out there again tomorrow....  Have a great weekend!