Friday, September 29, 2006

they're baaack! Bird update

Dark-eyed (slate-colored) juncos, that is. I saw a flurry of bird activity in the back yard just now, and there they were, the little gray wanderers from up north. They are mostly migrating through here, although a few stick around for the winter, but for a month or two and again in early spring they will be the most common bird around.

With them quite predictably, come the White-throated sparrows. They have a longer journey, heading down to Iowa and Missouri and further south, but I appreciate the song they bring to an otherwise silent woods.

I also saw a flock of migrant warblers, and one came right up to the back patio door so I could get a good look; probably a Nashville (on its way to the Opry, no doubt!)

Bald eagle sightings have been frequent; I suspect along with the residents, there are quite a few migrants coming through. Yesterday as I was driving the kids to school, I came over a slight hill to see an adult eagle just taking flight from the roadkill it was dining on. I had to slam on the brakes to avoid it; eagles, with their great wingspans, take a few seconds to get airborne. I ended up driving about ten feet underneath, its wingspan extending beyond the sides of the car.

I'm sure a lot more birds are coming through, and I should be taking a lot more time to notice them.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

the upcoming weekend

The Hermit is going duck hunting, probably gone by the time I arrive home on Friday. He's going with a dear old friend from his "old life"; funny how we ended up not so far away from there now. I don't begrudge him a good opening day of duck hunting; everybody's gotta get out once in a while and find what it means to live.

I have in front of me a beer kit, and all the necessary equipment, a fairly new slow cooker, and a state-of-the-art new bread machine. All that is to say, if you need to find me, I'll be in the cook shed. And I'll probably be taking some pictures along the way! Fresh bread, wort in the fermenter, and a simmering stew...now this is living!!!

Of course, it would be a fabulous weekend for a hike at the state park along the Kettle River close by...so many choices, so little time.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Fall stuff



It seems life is going by too fast. It is fish rearing-pond harvest time at work, my tomatoes have been put to bed, the kids are well settled in to the school routine. Another autumn, but I am taking time to enjoy the brilliant colors of this year.

The Minnesota Twins clinched their playoff berth yesterday with a win over the Kansas City Royals (sorry Pablo!). I'm so happy for them; here they were in mid-June, with the worst record in the majors, several key players injured throughout the season, yet they managed to turn it around and introduce a number of promising young farm-club players who helped them to get where they are. All this in a season dedicated to #34, Kirby Puckett, perhaps the greatest Twin ever.

Okay, now comes the confession: I haven't watched a single game all season. The excuse: we are not within antenna range of a station that carries Twins games. That in itself may be a good reason to get satellite TV.

Good news: I am about to restart my home brewing operation! I haven't brewed beer for, gosh what is it, five years or so, but today The Hermit was in St. Paul for a couple of meetings associated with his new job, and he found the time to go to my favorite homebrew shop in my favorite neighborhood of St. Paul, perhaps my favorite city anywhere. Oh wait, there's Duluth. Anyway, he bought a brew kit and the equipment that we have lost or destroyed through the years of moving around aimlessly, so this weekend my kitchen will once again be filled with the sweet smell of wort, and I will be treated to the intermittent noise of gas released through an airlock on a fermenter. Heaven. And I'll be sure to blog updates on the progress of the brew!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

the jars are all sealed

Before

This was my assignment for the day. A few gallons of ripe and green tomatoes, various other ingredients, pots, jars, and a canner. This, by the way, is the 8 x 12 shed that serves as my kitchen. For nearly four years. That soon will change.

I made two kinds of salsa today. On the left is my salsa roja. Recipe: Take a bunch of ripe tomatoes, scald, skin, core and chop 'em, cook them up while adding onions, hot peppers, grill-roasted sweet green peppers, cilantro, cumin, salt, and garlic to taste. Tasting is essential; I have to live with this stuff every time I open a jar. On the right is green tomato relish, which I consider to be more of a salsa, but I got the recipe from Farmgirl Fare, and she calls it relish. The voices in my head told me to add a pinch of cinnamon to the final product, and I think it may turn out well.

The final product: eleven jars of salsa, seven red, four green. Not enough to keep a family of salsa lovers for the entire year, but at least I got something for my tomato growing efforts. I was disappointed that the plentiful harvest of golf-ball sized Glacier tomatoes turned out to be totally worthless for salsa, along with anything else. Thin fleshed, with a huge cavity filled with pulp and seeds, they have a thin unbalanced acid taste. I was hoping this short season tomato would be a good provider, but I ended up composting most of them.

Although it was a lot of work, I enjoyed the art of creating canned goods. And with salsa, it really is an art; no formula recipe can account for the variable taste of tomatoes or hotness of peppers. I don't think I can reproduce any batch of salsa I've ever created.

My long time of chopping and preparing was accompanied by two new CD's that arrived yesterday: Chris Thile's How To Grow A Woman From The Ground, which is...interesting, needs more listening time to grow on me but I'm sure it will, and the Swedish group Vasen's Trio. Vasen is pure Nordic roots music, which means traditional songs and original compositions played on traditional instruments (Nordic fiddle, nyckelharpa and guitar/bozoki). Haunting. Deep. Dark. The Hermit heard some of it this morning, and he described it as "seafaring music". It is rhythmically and modally more adventurous than even Celtic music. And I'm really grooving on it. Hardly the association one would have with making salsa, but then I'm hardly predictable. :)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

well, no salsa...till tomorrow

I postponed my salsa orgy. I had every good intention to do everything today (Saturday), but life got in the way. Before I made salsa, I had to go to town and get some peppers and a few more things. I found all the jalapenos and more at the farmer's market, which I have been pleasantly surprised with in its first year.

As long as I had to go to town, there was laundry to be done. One of the unpleasant facts of domestic life here is laundry; I would love to do it all in my wringer washer and hang it out to dry, but that just hasn't worked out this summer. So I went to the laundromat and paid my dues in quarters. There are two kinds of people who go to the laundromat in this town, it seems; the totally hopeless, lobotomized, and clueless, and the ex-hippie homesteaders. Today the balance was tipped in favor of the latter, thankfully. There's a thriving community of people around here I've found who thoughtfully stray from the mainstream. Today I talked with a woman who used to work at the library in town; she recognized me, I didn't recognize her at first, but she knew me and my family and said she really enjoyed our visits to the library, and she really liked our family! I was almost speechless. That's why I'm loving living here. And everyone else in the laundromat today was polite and pleasant. One guy even brought a dirty sock to me that had fallen from one of my baskets.

One of my favorite episodes of the TV show Northern Exposure was when Maggie decided to buy her own washer and dryer. The results were unexpected; she found she missed the communal experience of doing laundry, of making conversation while waiting for the end of the spin cycle. Much as I hate going to the laundromat, I think there are a lot of connections to be made there.

But I did get to see some wonderful music tonight, as mentioned in my previous post. It was as I expected, maybe even a little better than the last show I'd seen with them. I talked briefly with Mike and David before the show, saying I had seen them last November and I learned a lot from their workshop. This wasn't schmoozing; I really meant it, and they both seemed to appreciate it. And The Whistlepigs sounded great, as usual.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The upcoming salsa mandolin orgy weekend

I have many more ripe tomatoes than I ever thought possible. I'm beginning to think that the early killing frost of two weeks ago might not have meant anything in the long run. I have buckets full of ripe and almost ripe tomatoes in my cookshed, more slicers than we can possibly slice for every meal of the day. We are in the midst of tomato heaven, and life is good.

I have decided that the highest use for these tomatoes is to make salsa. I could can them straight, or freeze them, but when it comes right down to it, we use a lot of salsa here. God forgive me and help my Scandinavian-Minnesotan ancestors up there to understand, but...salsa is good. And, I can even make salsa out of the green ones! Now that's thrifty, which goes along with Scandihoovian values, dontcha know? Uff-da! But watch out for dose hot peppers dere...

My plan is to hit the Sandstone Farmers Market early on Saturday, and hope that someone has a lot of jalapenos. Then to the grocery store for cilantro, which I'm afraid no one else will have, and anything else the market did not have. Of course, I will take a break Saturday night to go see Mike Compton and David Long, performing a benefit concert at Camp Heartland, a mere fifteen miles or so away. Fred and The Whistlepigs will be opening up for them, so it promises to be an exceptional night of music. I have seen them before, but Compton has influenced my mandolin style and practice more than anyone lately, and they put on a hell of a fun show last time, so...this time we'll even bring the kids.

more colors of the season





photos courtesy of The Hermit.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

goldenness



This time of year, you just have to take a drive down the road and document the light and color. Because tomorrow, it will look different.

Headline of the day: "Parts of Minnesota get below-freezing temperatures"

Uhh...yeah...two weeks ago! I'm seriously thinking about going public with our apparent derivation from normal temperatures on our land here. Given the obsession Minnesotans have with meteorological facts, exposing a challenger to Embarrass would create quite a stir. For the non Minnesotans, Embarrass has the reputation of always recording the lowest temperatures in the state, or often, in the nation. I have some good dirt on them though.

I think we're up to it. I'll just show them what's left of my garden.

Asters















It is September. Asters, in all their forms and hues, from frilly white lace to lavender blue bursts, are announcing the changing of the season, like the grand finale of a fireworks display. If asters bloomed in midsummer, they would just be among so many other wildflowers, and not as noticeable. But in September they stand out, outlasting even the goldenrod which fades with frost, as the forest floor changes from green to gold to brown.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mom as guitar teacher

I'm a guitar teacher now, much as I think guitar is probably my weakest instrument...no wait, there's piano...and my student is none other than Calvin the Inquisitive. I wanted to get him going on some musical trajectory, and since he had picked up a guitar and seemed to have an aptitude for rhythm I decided to take things into my own hands. There are precious few musical instructors within a fifty or so mile radius here; it seemed the obvious choice that, if Calvin were interested in something that I remotely knew how to play, I could probably save some money and do a halfway decent job teaching him myself, and learn something in the process.

I have found recently (within the last two days) that I am probably my own best instructor. I have been practicing mandolin, and I know what I want to accomplish, and my teacher-self has an amazing intuition for knowing just what I need to do to get there. Not that my teacher-self has the ability to play at the level I strive for, but my teacher-self is a hard ass. PLAY IT AGAIN! THAT WAS WEAK! LISTEN TO YOURSELF! Luckily, I managed to restrain that aspect of my teacher-self at Calvin's lesson.

It went very well; I had even written out a list of objectives beforehand and managed to touch on all of them within a half hour. (If you know me at all, you should be raising eyebrows; that just ain't me, to be so organized!). I actually had an inspiration for the lesson from last night; the kids had watched the movie The Blues Brothers for the umpteenth time (which I don't mind at all, it's one of my all time favorites!) and Calvin had somehow picked up on the Peter Gunn theme. He was so intrigued with it that he got out our soundtrack CD afterwards and played it over and over. It has an extremely repetitive bass line, one I remembered from my days in high school pep band, and I realized that the line could be played very easily on the low E string of the guitar. What better tune for a first lesson; one the kid knows and enjoys, simple rhythm, and one that can be played on one string.

Calvin seemed attentive, willing to listen to my teacher-self, and at the end of the lesson he even said he enjoyed it. I'll have to motivate myself to keep this gig up!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

pupdate: Hopi, 9 weeks


She's not usually like this. She would normally be a blur of orange and white in a picture. Brittanys are active dogs, and they chew way more than labs.

Friday, September 15, 2006

whew! I feel like a party hostess after the last guest has left, except that all of the dirty dishes and not-quite-empty wine glasses sitting around are my own. Hosting a blog carnival is a lot like throwing a party. It takes some planning and preparation, a bit of creativity, and some nose-to-the-grindstone work in the final hours before the event. There's always room for anxiety: what if no one shows up? what if they notice I forgot to dust off the top shelf? what if, in tasting the appetizers I get some spinach in between my front teeth and everyone sees me like that? what if I am just a socially inept geek? why am I suddenly not capitalizing the first letters of these sentences?

But then the guests arrive, you realize that they are the life of the party, what makes it all happen, and despite all the things you think you could have done better, everyone ends up having a good time.

I'm ready to slow down and try to take it easy for a while, though. On top of the major blogging commitment, I've had a busy schedule at work, doing some physically rigorous tasks, and at home it seems like I'm just struggling to stay two steps behind. I know I need to get things organized and decluttered, but I don't want to blow a sunny September weekend doing it!

The days are sunny with dazzling blue skies, the kind of blue I think only happens in September. The nights are crisp and cool and quiet, except for the occasional wild music of coyotes. I need to be like those coyotes, running free and making some wild music of my own. I need to sit outside with a guitar or mandolin in hand, and sing. I need to dance around a bonfire with my family.

That does it, I'm taking off work early today!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Passionate Birder: I and the Bird #32



In the fortnight since I and The Bird last appeared, the conservation community has lost one of its most enthusiastic, outspoken proponents: Steve Irwin, aka The Crocodile Hunter. Although his personality and onscreen presence was at times brash and even annoying to some, he had a true passion for the wildlife he loved, and he introduced a generation of TV-watchers to the danger and beauty surrounding his native Australia. He was one of a kind, and he will be missed. At least he died doing what he loved.

We birders are a passionate kind as well. It takes real passion to travel thousands of miles to see one new species, as much as it takes passion to sit still and notice the wonders of one's own backyard. It takes passion to stand out and be a voice for the conservation of birds, or to be a steward of one's own backyard. The posts submitted for this edition of I and the Bird reflect the true passion of their writers.

Birders are always passionate for adventure. Duncan, of Ben Cruachan Blog, recounts his birding adventures on the Surf Coast of Australia. Trevor had the opportunity to visit Adelaide, South Australia, and made the most of it. Nick, of BirdDC, went on a Chesapeake road trip over Labor Day weekend, and found out that sometimes persistence pays off, and sometimes it doesn't. It was a good trip, anyway.

Birders are passionate for seeing new things. David at Search and Serendipity finally found the frogmouth he was looking for at Papua New Guinea. Rick had a great day birding recently, including seeing a family of black capped gnatcatchers. Bora has been seeing a rash of pretty birds recently, and his latest may be something unusual for his area. Marc at The Hornet's Nest has a wish list for new and unusual things he would like to see at his patch, and Patrick at The Hawk Owl's Nest has a success story of sorts, where the right bird showed up in the right place at the right time, after a long wait.

Birders are also passionate for biology and conservation. Jeff Wells of the Boreal Bird Initiative muses on Eskimo curlews while traveling. Conservation First is a good idea. Rob got involved with the Idaho Bird Conservatory's volunteer bird banding project and got to see some amazing birds up close. Mike of 10,000 birds introduces us to the world of complexity that exists among mallards. I never knew! John, of A DC Birding Blog, educates us about a beautiful raptor species (aren't they all beautiful!), the Broad-winged Hawk. John Trapp has an interesting post about some proposed changes to the common bird names we know and love. Eek! Change! As if change in Latin names wasn't enough...And finally, on this note, Floridacracker, whose blog I read religiously every day, shows how a few dead trees can do a lot of good for birds on his land in the last undeveloped tract of Pure Florida.

And, birders have a passion for life; for noticing the changes of the seasons, for appreciating the beauty of the world around them, and observing everyday beauty in the realm of home. And seeing how birds fit into all that. Sometimes that life depends upon predation, as Carel of Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding narrates thoughtfully in Killing To Live Or Living To Kill. Alex of Have Passport, Will Travel has certainly noticed that migration time is upon us. The migration thing is not lost on many; pascal has noticed it as well. Susannah gives a delightful account of a family of chickadees in her yard; I am always a sucker for a good chickadee story! Soobie at Snail Spirals muses on her ten most beautiful birds...I change my mind every time I try to make up that list! Pam at Tortoise Trail paused to appreciate not one but three red-tailed hawks, and got some beautiful photos. Which reminds me...my kids yelled to me this weekend: "Mom! There's an eagle with a red tail!" My kids should know how lucky they are, to think seeing a bald eagle is an ordinary thing, but seeing a red-tailed hawk is unusual! And, last but definitely not least...I really do want you to read this one...mojoman integrates bird song and deep musings on life in his excellently-written essay, Waiting for the Light.

Well, that concludes it for another round of I and the Bird. I really have enjoyed hosting this edition, and seeing all the great perspectives on birding from around the world. The next edition will be hosted at Don't Mess With Taxes; submissions due 9-26.

Cheers. And remember, be passionate.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

trout in small places, close to home


Do you see the stream in this picture?


Here's a better view. That pool has to be all of four feet wide and a foot deep.

This is a small tributary to Sand Creek. Yes, the Sand Creek. A mile or so from my home, as the crow flies. Today I was fortunate enough to get paid to come to this creek and see if there were any brook trout in there. There were. :)

I am totally amazed. After yesterday, where we found two adult trout in a stream devastated by beaver, I was beginning to wonder about the tenacity of brook trout. They demand cool water, and gravel substrate on which to spawn. Water temperatures above 68 degrees are lethal. As are drought years, which we are definitely in. Parts of this little ditch-creek were so low we were walking on wet gravel. But still, the brook trout were there. Hallelujah!

Of course, this is very good news for Sand Creek, about a half mile downstream. The brook trout live and flourish and reproduce against all odds. I am in awe.

Monday, September 11, 2006

of trout and tree-gnawing rodents*

*because...

imagine the search engine hits I would get if I dared to say the word "beaver" in the title! What a crazy world we live in.

I had another classic adventure day at work. I was a little leery after the last day I went on stream detail, ending up wading through a mucky beaver-infested willow jungle of a supposed trout stream. The last straw was falling face-first into the muck as I was crawling on all fours trying to avoid sinking up to my knees in the goo at the bottom. I did what any sensible person would do as I realized I was completely soaked. I laughed my arse off.

This day promised to be better. John and I were going to check a small tributary of the St. Croix River, which five years ago was found to have a healthy population of wild brook trout and was then designated a trout stream. The waters in the area where we were going, far south of where the office is, farther south from where I live, are vastly different. The St. Croix Valley is a geographical wonder in an area of relatively flat land. High bluffs tower over the river bottom, sometimes exposing layers of sedimentary rock over older layers of volcanic basalt. The beauty of this "canyon" is breathtaking.

Because of this geology, the steep bluffs, groundwater from above seeps into the St. Croix through cracks in the bedrock, and occasionally these seepages become large enough to sustain flow year round and create a stream channel. The cold temperature of the groundwater is optimal for brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), which somehow some time long ago found their way into these little streams. The main flowage of the St. Croix River is too warm for them in the summer.

Armed with a jon boat with 15 horse motor, backpack gasoline-powered shocker, and waders, we set out. The stream was about two miles downstream from where we launched the boat, and we motored past towering bluffs and cliffs, and floodplain forest. Asters, some yellow sunflower-family flowers, and even cardinal flower bloomed along the banks. Vultures and sandhill cranes soared overhead; the sandhills looked to be part of a migrating flock. Great blue herons stalked the banks, while belted kingfishers chattered from branch to branch.

We turned off into a side channel about a mile downstream. The river channel here is braided, meaning there are numerous side channels that are definitely worthy of exploration, although most canoeists choose the main channel.

Our destination, according to the GPS, appeared as a sand bar delta with a small flow entering at the downstream side. We ate an early lunch, knowing that it might be difficult walking and we might need the energy. It was an incredibly remote, quiet place. The day was overcast, and we noted the chill in the air. I wore a heavy sweatshirt, and still felt chilled.

Finally we put on our waders and got started. I removed my sweatshirt, thinking that with it on I would work up a sweat and end up completely chilled on the ride back. The stream at the mouth was so narrow that John and I could not walk side by side; sometimes I walked up on the bank. He had the backpack electrofisher on his back, and I carried a backpack with a bucket, clipboard, and scales. The GPS unit was clipped to my wader suspenders.

About fifty yards or less upstream, we encountered the first beaver dam. Upstream was a pool that was deep enough to harbor a few aquatic plants. We breached the dam a little, causing a rush of water flowing downstream, and climbed into the waist deep water. Beyond the head of the pool, we lost the stream channel in the tall grass. There was water flowing among the grasses, it just did not flow in any one discernible channel. After fighting upstream for a while, not knowing where we were headed, we decided that I should walk ahead and see if this stream resolved itself into a channel anywhere nearby. I fought tall grasses, small willows, and shallow water over muck until I did find a place where I could see clear water flowing over sand. I made my way back to John, and realized with all the work of moving through tall grass I was sweating in my neoprene waders.

We found the channel and started electrofishing. Within about a one hundred yard reach of clear water we shocked two brook trout, 9 1/2 inches each. If you've never seen brook trout, and I have had precious little experience with them, they are perhaps the most beautiful fish in the world. Grayish green back with bright red and blue and yellow spots, and some iridescent pink on the sides. I was thinking this place was looking heavenly; crystal clear water running over sand, with beds of green watercress and forget-me-not blooming late, their blue contrasting with the yellow of beggartick and the orange of jewelweed.

Then we ran into more beaver dams; the going got more rough, the bottom muckier, obstacles of beaver logs every ten yards or so. Finally we lost the stream channel again. We measured the trout (kept alive in a five gallon bucket), and took scale samples. One male and one female. Perhaps the only breeding pair left in this stream. Then I looked upstream and saw nothing but marsh and muck. Somewhere there was cold flowing water, but without a discernible, hard-bottomed channel it was not worth sampling any further. We turned back.

The downstream walk was trying. Although I knew we were on the down side, heading home, and in no danger of getting lost, I found it was harder and harder to lift my wader-clad legs over beaver logs, that and getting mired in muck way too often. I was drenched in sweat, envisioning myself getting stuck, unable to pull myself out of the muck, spending eternity here within reach of the river. Then, as I stepped into the elusive stream channel once more, I rammed my right shin straight into the end of a beaver-knawed stump. The pain made me see stars.

But I was getting closer to the river and our boat, and I plunged onward until finally I was there. We rested for a minute, drank water from our bottles, then pushed the boat out and motored back upstream. I was getting chilled from my sweat-drenched shirt, but I wanted it to dry out a bit. I was grateful for the warmth of my sweatshirt when I finally pulled it on at the boat landing.

I have heard for a long time what beavers can do to trout streams in this area. I have seen it once or twice. But today I saw it first hand. Five years ago, according to the stream survey done then, there was a stream channel and they sampled ninety adult brook trout and numerous young-of-year. We got two adults. But, where there is a male and female, there is hope.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Gardening in Minnesota's unknown coldest spot

My gardening plans took an abrupt turn this morning, as I realized that not even 6 mil plastic or old tarps can fend off 25 degree frost.

Beans, done. Summer squash, done. Winter squash, done. Cucumbers, done (although there may be a vine or two that survived.) Peppers and eggplant, of course. Basil, a fragrant memory. Tomatillo, maybe I can harvest the fruits but they are so small I don't know if it's worth it. Tomatoes...I'm beginning to wonder if it's possible here.

I really thought I would feel more devastated than I did. I may have uttered an expletive or two when I first viewed the damage, but surprisingly I was thinking, Okay. So the final crop will be less than expected, but what has been the harvest this year?

The harvest has well exceeded the crop. Although I won't have a bumper crop of tomatoes this year, and I won't even get to taste some of the varieties I planted, I still come away from this gardening season with more than what I put into it. I have the knowledge, from observing soil conditions, plant health and insects, but it's more than what I learned. I realized that the largest harvest comes from the doing, the planning, the moments spent out there looking across the swamp, the morning I saw the harriers in their courtship flight, the honest muscle aches from a hard day's work, the standing back and seeing the beauty of it all. The crop is just a small part of the harvest.

I have had my fill of summer squash. Of cucumbers. I have enjoyed a few tomatoes, and the smell of fresh basil. I have a bucket full of onions, and enough garlic to last for a while. Tomorrow I will plant more lettuce and kale and spinach; even in autumn there is still room for growth. Carrots still wave their feathery heads, and the Swiss chard is indestructible. I have rutabagas, and parsnips, and potatoes to dig. And there are enough ripe, and almost ripe tomatoes, and maybe a few pints of green tomato salsa to make.

As a matter of fact, I could not help but notice the overwhelming beauty of the world today. The kids spied a red-tailed hawk riding the wind currents, and said "Mom! An eagle with a red tail!" Asters bloomed everywhere. I took a walk in the woods with Calvin and discovered parts of our own land I'd long forgotten. The sky was a clear, piercing blue, the woods smelling of frost and decaying ferns and pine needles. I found a new blueberry patch, on our land, to check next year, and blackberry growing everywhere. It was all wonderful, the best place I could ever hope for. The small setbacks; they are just that. In the larger scheme of things, this is it. Living in the moment.

frost

If someone out there comes up with a tomato that can survive an early hard frost, even under cover, I will be the first to try it.

Off to the farmer's market to console myself.

Friday, September 08, 2006

long shadows of September






if you look real close you can see my new house.

high today 60. Low tonight around freezing. I covered up everything I wanted to in the garden. High tomorrow: 58. Autumn is here. I am wearing wool socks.

startin' to feel the tomato love


Get it? ummm...heart shaped tomato...love...

This is a Pruden's Purple, an heirloom pink beefsteak tomato I've had fairly good results with this year. Its taste has been described as similar to Brandywine, and if my Brandywines ever ripen I'll try the two head to head and see. It does have a good flavor, and being an early variety is a plus.

Actually this photo was taken three weeks ago, and I don't think I've had a Pruden's Purple since. It's been dry, and the cooler nights have slowed down the ripening process. I haven't even canned any tomatoes yet, and we're a week into September! I am getting a few Sub Arctic Plenty, my best producer by far this year, but I haven't decided if the flavor is worth it. They sure don't hold a candle to Stupice, which is equally early. I have a few Stupice plants, but I think they must need more water because they aren't doing as well as Sub Arctic Plenty.

I was going to take some garden photos last night to illustrate this long-overdue gardening post, but everything looked so dull and listless, waiting for the rain. We did get a sprinkling this morning, but it wasn't even enough to settle the dust on the road. My garden-watering hose is currently stretched out to the horses and chickens out front, because our lawn tractor we used to haul water has died. So watering the garden means moving two hundred feet of hose first. That, and the ever-shortening evening hours have kept me from watering this week. I'm trying to get a late crop of lettuce and kale going, but the seeds won't germinate when it's so dry.

I pulled up all of my onions last Sunday and got a fairly good crop that might last us until around Christmas. I seem to have trouble growing large onions, however. I planted them from sets. Maybe I should try seeds? How about walking or bunching onions? Any onion experts out there?

The zucchini and yellow crookneck squash are conspiring to take over the entire east side of the garden, as is a pumpkin or winter squash vine. I am blessed with summer squash this year and the other day we had the most delicious fried yellow and green zucchini. We've also been grilling zucchini, onions, garlic, and store-bought green peppers and mushrooms.

I am finally starting to get snap beans and pole beans! They were started fairly late, then about half of one bed of purple-podded bush beans got wiped out by some fungus. Then came the drought...but now they are flourishing. By the way, I did not order purple-podded bush beans, I ordered Roma beans. I can't remember right now who I ordered from, or if it was their error or mine. Oh well. Speaking of errors, remind me to never again buy Amish Paste tomatoes, one of my favorite heirlooms, from the otherwise-excellent local garden center. For the second time in three years, what I thought was Amish Paste has turned out to be something else, and not even a very tasty something else.

Mentally strolling along in my garden, we come to the cucumbers. An abundance of delicious Divas, my favorite, albeit hybrid, slicing cucumber, and lots of pickling cukes that like to hide until they get to be large, yellowish, seedy monsters. Note to self: unless you plan on selling cucumbers at the Farmer's Market (along with everyone else), one, or at the most two Diva cucumber plants are MORE than enough for our family.

Now for the garden surprise of the year. My former garlic patch now hosts two very large Yellow Pear tomato plants which are starting to produce ripe bite-size tomatoes. These sprouted themselves from last year's Yellow Pear plants. I would not dare direct-seed all of my tomato crop in late May, but this is the first time I've seen a successful volunteer tomato in my garden.

Although they took forever to germinate, and germination was somewhat spotty, I will have some parsnips this year for the first time! In the same bed is a good number of medium size rutabagas and one colossal rutabaga. Next door are the carrots, which also had uneven, spotty germination and are not quite ready, but I will get a decent sized crop.

I'm getting on a roll here, and there are several more things I want to talk about, but I think it will have to wait until tomorrow. I'll have to cover things up tonight; scattered frost is likely, which means I can count on frost here.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Second child syndrome



These are my second children, Starflower and Hopi. Starflower is my second born child, as headstrong but sweet as they come. Hopi is the puppy we just picked up Saturday, a three hour drive away from our home. She's a Brittany, a bird dog, which is in line with The Hermit's new job. Go hunting= contacts=money. That's all I will say about our system of wildlife management here in Minnesota, since my job is in fish and wildlife management and I intend on keeping it.

Anyway, she is cute, ain't she? The dog I mean, although the girl...You keep yer hands off her! Anyway Hopi is eight weeks old, hyper as anything, a much more trying puppy than Sally so far. I have yet to bond with her as much as I did Sally, but I resign it to the "second child syndrome"; the second just requires more work than the first, no matter how cute they are. Sally is doing her best to be a guiding figure in this young pup's life; she is starting to have the mothering instincts.

On the way to get Hopi we drove through some country I hadn't seen in a while, including the town where I spent four years going to college. That town was devastated by a tornado in 1998, and the college campus sustained a lot of damage. I immediately recognized the lack of large trees, but I was relieved to see many of the beautiful old houses in town still standing. I wanted to stop at campus and look around; there are a few new buildings and a few old ones that are no longer there. However, it was Freshman Drop-off Day, so it was too crowded to approach the campus closely. We ended up having a picnic at a park downhill from campus, but storm clouds were approaching. I could feel a drop in atmospheric pressure, and I was nervous; this town is Tornado Alley. When I was a senior, spending my last few days on campus, I remember seeing rotating funnel clouds directly overhead, and it wasn't just from what I was drinking!

Anyway, Hopi is our new Brittany puppy and I know I will love her...when she settles down a bit!

p.s. I've already noticed how much Starflower looks like a mirror image of my profile picture, minus the blue eyes.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Coming soon to Sand Creek Almanac


A "heads up" to all you fans of feathered friends: The 32nd edition of I and the Bird will appear on this blog one week from Thursday! Most readers of this blog probably know about IATB already, but for those who don't, here's what it's about:
I and the Bird is a carnival celebrating the interaction of human and avian, an ongoing exploration of the endless fascination with birdlife all around the world. It is also a biweekly showcase of the best bird writing on the web published on alternating Thursdays.
This is my first attempt at hosting a blog carnival and I'm excited! I have received several very good submissions already, but there's room for many more! So if you have any bird-related blogging you would like to share, by all means send me a link and a short description to flutemandolin AT gmail DOT com. Deadline is one week from today, Tuesday September 12.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Would blog more, but hormonally impaired

That is, I'm ready to kick your ass if you provoke me! Grr!

Damn female stuff. Knocks a day or two out of you each month, but this month seems especially severe. I almost had it out with a city bitch in the local general store, after she came in demanding who had the blue van blocking the gas pump. I not-so-quietly informed her that my husband was out there, not finishing pumping gas, and that he was the type that would move it one second after the gas nozzle was put back. The owner of the store, sort of a friend, backed me up with "he's still pumping gas, ma'am!" I was shaking mad. The world does not start and stop at your convenience, ma'am.

That, and my youngest offspring was provoking me to the fullest. I really feel bad after one of the episodes where I feel the complete and total need to strangle him. I love him, dammit, but I won't put up with the worst he has to offer.

It got worse, after mandatory visits to Kohls and the dreaded Wal Mart to by school clothes and supplies. I was disappointed by Kohls, and their presumption that every preteen female figure is the same shape, skinny and tall. My daughter, while not fat, fits into size 10 regular although they are generally long. And their junior department...I'm not going to let her shop there....

Worse yet after Wal Mart, where they had run out of plain pencils and 24 pack Crayolas. This was a Super Wal Mart, mind you. I informed my children we would not be buying substitutes, that I would go to the local Ben Franklin and get what they needed. Hallelujah, I hate Wally Hell.

Fortunately, we made my usual run across the Bong Bridge (nice name) to a liquor store in Superior, Wisconsin known for their low prices. That kept me from going over the edge.

Arrgghh, I'm still not normal, and my kids are going back to school tomorrow, and dammit, where has the summer gone, why don't I seem to have the time to do what I really want to, and does my youngest really think I'm nothing but a pushover, or a hardass, why would he act that way just for me?

Ahhh, it too will pass. Maybe.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

a picture is worth a thousand words

Sorry folks, I'm suffering from a bout of much to say but inability to actually sit down and take the time to say it coherently. So I'll leave you with some pictures of my oft-neglected flowers that manage to keep blooming.

This is butterfly weed, but it is blooming about a month later than usual around here. That may be due to the Monarch caterpillars that completely defoliated this plant in June. I thought it was done for, but it managed a graceful late-season comeback. I don't hold anything against the caterpillars; I hope they made it to replace the monarchs I have killed with my car this year. :(

I had saved some Cosmos seed from a garden somewhere a few years ago, and I thought it was the pink and white and magenta kind. Oh well, the orange is beautiful.

And, for contrast, we have this white coneflower surrounded by purple Nicotiana, my new favorite. I have grown white Nicotiana alata before, and loved the fragrance, but these purples seem to be just as fragrant. Next year I'll grow a garden of purples and whites; no, although I'm from Minnesota I'm not much of a Vikings fan, especially lately since they have a tendency to behave badly off the field. ;) But the colors are nice.

Friday, September 01, 2006

this morning, across the road


Hint: look in the top of the tree and click to view full size if you can't see those magnificent white heads!

top of old white pine
bald eagle pair enjoying
rays of morning sun