Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Planning season

There isn't really an off season for the garden, is there? It's actually a prepare-for-the-next-growth season.

The Baker Creek seed catalog reached me this week, which means I'm now swooning over pages and pages of full-color photos of beautiful, unusual vegetable varieties. Currently I'm mostly in the ridiculous wishlist phase (what if I tried amaranth again!) and only just starting to consider more practical considerations (early snap peas in the bed near the strawberries sure would be nice).

I'm thinking a lot, though, about how to manage seedlings' light needs. I want to be able to do tomatoes again, because they're such a staple in my kitchen. Given how late the warm season starts here, that means giving them a good long indoor stay to bulk up; last summer, the plants I got substantial production from were ones I bought from a nursery, and they started their seedlings in January or February.

They also almost definitely used grow lights to get theirs going, which I fussed about back in May. I'm still committed on principle to minimizing the external energy inputs I use for the garden, though, so I'm wondering about what I could do with our existing solar power. I've been thinking about trying to set up a reflective/mirrored screen to set behind the seedling trays, so it could bounce back sunlight from the window to give them a second shot at it. Ideally, that would give them extra light and heat to encourage growth without taking constant infusions of electricity. In a worst case, it just fries them. Maybe I'll set up a control group so I can actually measure what difference it makes.

Much later in the year, I think I'm going to want to start my fall seedlings outside this summer, instead of leaving them in the spare room (where honestly I think they probably baked). If I can get the cold frame done early this year, which just means getting off my lazy butt and doing the job, then I'll have a nice set-aside space; I can leave the glass top open and rig some kind of screen to filter the south and west sun, so they get some light but not enough to overwhelm them. Bonus, this minimizes the amount of hardening off they'll need when it's time to move them out to the beds.

Friday, December 12, 2014

la grisouille

My dad, who lived in Seattle for a few years before moving back east, emailed me recently to tell me the French have a word for Seattle winter: la grisouille, the chilly damp darkness that seems to go on forever. Okay, actually it's a word for Paris winter, but we have a lot in common, with the high latitude and large water body to the west affecting the local climate. We are deep in la grisouille right now, though I at least take a late enough train that the sun is up (somewhere behind the clouds) before I leave the house. This morning, the storm was over and the weather was clear enough for the crows to be commuting at the same time I was—there's a substantial crow population that roosts down in Renton and flies into Seattle in the mornings to do their daily scavenging, just like people. I find them so charming every time my schedule matches up with theirs.

And of course we're almost to the turning point already, the hinge where the dark stops getting darker and the sun is reborn. I'm going to make it. This winter, like all the winters before it, won't undo me. I'll see la grisouille melt, the first daffodils pushing their way up through the earth, the first buds turning to blossoms on trees. The wheel turns. We're headed that way soon.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Note to self: first frost at the house this year was on November 10.

The Dark Season is well and truly upon us, which means there's little to no time for doing chores outside on weekdays; the sun's rising as I leave in the morning, and well down by the time I get off the bus home. But I found a warm red coat in the by-the-pound bins at Goodwill last weekend that probably cost me about $5, and now I am considerably more visible in people's headlights when I'm walking home in the dark.

We're currently having what passes for a cold snap in Seattle, the very edge of the freezing Jetstream produced when the remains of Nuri stormed into Alaska. Of course, "cold" around here means the lows are around freezing, which really shouldn't feel like a big deal after almost ten years in/around Philly and one terrible winter in Denver. That was practically a lifetime ago, though. Sometimes I wonder if anyone I knew back then would grok what I've become. The guy I moved to Denver with probably wouldn't. If anyone would, it's probably the Badgers; I hope they're doing well. Jimmi O'Badger, if you ever google yourself, we went to school together and you knew me as Lilith - drop me a line.

The me from back then was more brittle, I think, and also trying a lot harder to front about it. I was a surly little rivethead, who would have embraced news about this "internet of things" concept out of a sense of nihilism: if you can't fight the dystopia, you might as well take grim satisfaction in seeing it coming. Now I'm... well, maybe slightly less nihilistic. Still doing optimism wrong, because now I look at that and think, "It won't be able to last, between the people who refuse to be so intensely monitored and the increasing number of people who just can't afford all those toys. And they're depending on a lot of finite resources to build and sustain that stuff anyway." Which is more comforting than living in the consumer panopticon for the rest of my life, at least.

Plans for the rest of November: pick up the pace on making solstice presents for people; haul tomatoes and peaches out of the freezer and can some stuff now that it's cold out; mow the damn lawn one more time if it's ever dry on a weekend; jury duty; friendsgiving.

Monday, October 20, 2014

back on the post horse

This morning on the way to work Skrillex's "Breakin' a Sweat" came on my phone and it was this moment of "yep, that's my life": taking transit to work, knitting, listening to a dubstep riff on Jim Morrison. I don't know. Something about the collision of disparate elements there.

I'm going to try to get back in the habit of posting here, on the theory that doing so will help me stay motivated to keep doing the actual things that get posted about. So here we are in the second half of October: I need to pull out my last tomato plants now that the wet is setting in, and bring in their unripe fruit to ripen in a paper bag. The fig tree is having its second crop after all, which I'd worried wouldn't ripen, so we need to harvest those also and figure out what to do with them. The south-end bed has purple barley and fava beans growing on one side, both of which are thriving, and garlic planted on the other, which is starting to sprout. I botched getting my early seedlings started for winter veggies, but a few of the kale might make it, and maybe I'll cave and buy a packet of starts from somewhere. Fortunately the chard from last winter appears not to have gotten the memo that it's an annual, and after I cut down the flowering stalks this summer the roots started sending up new leafy growth. So we can keep eating that for a while.

The corn-and-beans patch this summer was an absolute bust, and I suspect the culprit was just plain old low-quality dirt; that was a spot that had been lawn previously. Yesterday I dug the top shovelful under, with the plant matter intact, so it can rot under there over the winter (I did spot a couple of nice big earthworms, so at least I have a little help on this front). I'm going to add more actual finished compost and plant it over in a cover crop, probably field peas, for the winter.

I might do the same thing down front where the daylilies kind of got a hold but the pumpkins did nothing of substance; there, also, I'm dealing with recently ex-lawn. Generally I probably need to remember to be less impatient about getting things into the dirt in places that aren't ready -- spend an extra day on soil amendment and avoid wasting a whole season, self.

I did make a small order from Raintree before the winter set in, to get things into the ground and let them establish roots now, so they're ready to get going in the spring. I have a Camellia sinensis, better known as tea, and a King James mulberry, named after the fellow who planted the tree's progenitor in London a few hundred years ago (the original tree died in the Blitz, but enterprising horticulturalists managed to propagate enough shoots to keep its lineage going). #plantnerd

Another day, another chore. Tonight I need to clean out my kombucha operation and see if the poor mother is still in good enough shape to start a fresh batch. Also maybe see about taking samples for a soil test, if the ground isn't soaked (hah).

Friday, October 17, 2014

"when the zombies come"

I'm pretty sure zombies have infiltrated pop culture more thoroughly than any other monster figure. They've gotten their teeth into literature. They organize flash mobs. They get runners motivated. The military plans for them. They have a lot of mojo right now.

Which is what makes "when the zombies come" such a powerful charm. Not to summon them, of course; not to bring on the apocalypse or anything of that nature. It's a ward against skeptics. It's an answer to questions that doesn't leave the speaker vulnerable. "Why would you bother to learn to [hunt/forage/smith/hand-spin]?" goes the question, with the implied "that's so time-consuming and obsolete." And a wry "When the zombies come, you'll be glad I can [find food/repair our tools/make new clothes]" soothes the skeptic, tells them It's okay, I'm like you, I believe in the same world you believe in, I'm just indulging in play. Sometimes of course the framing goes the other way and they're the ones asking for reassurance: "Can't hurt when the zombies come, huh?" as a reaction to someone learning a forgotten skill. Elaborating on the usefulness of the skill in the zombie scenario finishes the charm.

Because oftentimes answering that question seriously leads to a conversation that's exhausting and awkward. "When a pandemic scare breaks down social services" or "If the drought leads to food shortages" or "When fuel costs make it too expensive to ship cheap goods halfway across the world" are uncomfortable contingencies. They sit in that nasty place where people don't want to believe in them, but they are believable. The zombies are a "safe" disaster, the one we know won't arrive. Looking at the possibility of other disasters occurring (or worsening) and planning for them makes people uncomfortable. Why are you so pessimistic? Come on, they'll think of something! God, you're not some kind of prepper survivalist weirdo, are you?

I don't know. I'll cop to the pessimism easily. We are living, as they say, in interesting times. Climate change is an ongoing disaster all over the place. The global financial system is made up of a terrible baroque assemblage of mechanisms to make numbers get bigger, without a care for how they affect the standard of living of billions of people. The US has committed itself to repeated military engagements in the Middle East, spilling blood to ensure we retain access to oil. I don't have a lot of faith in The System to keep things running smoothly. Learning hands-on skills to take care of my immediate needs makes me feel a little better about my situation.

I have a three-hour class on spinning with a drop spindle tomorrow: one more step toward knowing how food and clothing happen without capital-I Industry. You know. In case the zombies come.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I promised you a knitting post

A million years ago. Whoops! I actually wound up making a version of it over on the author blog, but I think I still need to make a slightly different one over here.

Because it's not just that knitting is a method of soothing the part of my brain that is comforted and calmed by doing simple repetitive tasks, though that's definitely part of it. It's not just the accomplishment of having those tasks result in a tangible reward. That's part of it too, obviously.

But it's also part of the same project as figuring out how to get tomatoes to grow in a Seattle season, and nailing together a compost bin from scrapped pallets with my own hands. It's about having useful skills, about connecting my time and labor more directly to the sources of my sustenance and comfort. (There's nothing like "working" in front of a computer for eight hours to make me go "...this feeds me how, exactly?") Being able to create a garment directly from twisted threads is good for me right down to the soul. (Being able to twist the threads in the first place would be even cooler; I'm signed up to take a class on using a drop spindle this coming Saturday.)

One of my current projects is a set of densely-knitted slipper socks from Andean Folk Knits: Great Designs from Peru, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador & Bolivia, by Marcia Lewandowski. Who is just as white as she sounds, and occasionally the book veers into using-your-culture-for-tourism territory, but mostly she's pretty aware of the tendency to do that and tries to avoid it -- pointing out, for example, that no matter how romantic she finds the idea of indigenous women hand-spinning, she can't argue with their desire to save time by using commercial yarn when she herself relies on her washing machine, dishwasher, and microwave to make necessary chores move faster. So that degree of self-awareness was nice to see.

Anyway, the thing I meant to say about the book: one of the things that's been neatest for me about it is the details about how working with fiber gets integrated with other things: herders working with drop spindles while they follow their animals. Men sharpening the ends of salvaged bicycle spokes to make sets of double-pointed needles. Colorwork designs being improvised to fit the garment as the knitter works. It's a very practical making approach (which doesn't mean it's dreary in the least; the colors and patterns built into these useful items are glorious).

In contrast it feels a bit like USian knitting culture has a strain of, well... consumerism to it. Acquire the best brand-name yarns! Use the most perfect exotic fibers! Stash a monstrous hoard of yarn you will never have time to use! Follow celebrity designers and rely on their technical expertise! Buy individual patterns! Use a vast array of needles in minutely varying sizes! It's a seductive approach that I am definitely not standing outside of -- I've spent more money than I should have on yarn in the last season. And there are some absolutely lovely finished objects that come out of this stuff-focused style. But I really want to try to remind myself that there is a full suite of skills here, not limited to following patterns; knowing how and why a piece is put together a certain way are crucial. Those are the parts that would let me improvise. That knowledge lets a craftsperson produce work that is more than the sum of its inputs.

And that's a goal I'm actually reaching for.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

sweet victory!

That, my friends, is homebrew blackberry mead. (Also evidence that I need to write about knitting. But that's a different post.) I couldn't resist breaking into it this evening and trying it out, and I am pleased to report that it is quite drinkable. (This is my first brewing experience! That's a good bar to aim for.)

This was low-tech wild-fermented brew; I mixed three cups of honey with twelve cups of water in a bucket, then added a quart of foraged blackberries. I left it alone, stirring occasionally, for a few days, until the wild yeasts had gotten a chance to colonize it and start it frothing up. Then it went into a jug with an airlock to do its thing, and it has been there for... a month? six weeks?

It's still sweet at this point, just slightly fizzy, and the honey flavor comes to the fore first with the blackberries arriving as an aftertaste. I am so proud of myself.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Backyard-grown potatoes, neighborhood-foraged apples, home-fermented kraut, locally raised pork.

Some nights it's spaghetti sauce out of a jar, but some nights the stars align for this. :3

Thursday, August 14, 2014

mid august???

I keep not posting because I mean to take pictures, or I mean to upload pictures, or I forget when I sit down at the computer, or...

It's harvest time now, a bit from the garden (I'm freezing a steady trickle of paste tomatoes in the hopes of having enough for a canning session by the end of the season) and a LOT from trees and bushes. My fig tree's fruit is ripening, and now we're inundated with fist-sized, brown-black fruit; I need to dig up recipes and figure out what I'm making with all of them. Harvest preservation! Whew. There's also been a lot of foraging: I went out with H to gather blackberries, and we got enough for her to start a five-gallon batch of wine and me to make four pints of jam. Then I went out again by myself the next week and snagged another quart of them to add to some wild-fermented mead, which is now almost ready to decant from secondary fermentation. Then last weekend we went over the hill to a nearby abandoned lot, which is apparently the remains of somebody's orchard; there are two apple trees still bearing -- enough for us to gather ten gallons of mostly-windfall fruit to press for cider -- and two tiny plum trees whose fruit is not quite ripe. Pretty sure I spotted a pear, also, but it bore no fruit, possibly due to being the last one left in the area.

In upcoming-harvest news, my tiger eye beans are producing big pods that are starting to turn brown on a few plants. Keeping an eye on those, because it would be super neat to harvest enough beans for some chili this winter. ...I'm probably *not* going to get a corn harvest, because I just planted too late; the plants are healthy but they're small, and at this point in the season they ought to be taller than I am and fluffy with silk. Lessons for next year!

Also I harvested my one little row of garbanzos, which ultimately wound up with about a handful of beans. They're not a productive enough crop for me to give them dedicated space next year, I don't think. BUT: the individual plants take up very little space, are self-supporting, and fix nitrogen. So the new plan is to just tuck them into corners between plantings of other things.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Yay! First we've had so far this month. Weather.com claims it's half an inch so far, but I think it may be a little more. I'd like to claim responsibility for it -- I watered almost everything in the backyard yesterday -- but it seems much more likely that it was the neighbor washing his car who spurred the clouds into action. :)

Next time I can get some photos uploaded I need to make happy noises about foraging blackberries, too.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Parts of dealing with the garden are frustrating or disheartening -- trying to figure out an efficient way to manage water supply, discovering blossom end rot on the first Amish paste tomato, watching the little pear struggle with fireblight -- but some of it is just plain cool.

I honestly harvested these earlier than I would have in a perfect world; the heat this past week made the plants at the less-well-watered end of the row just keel right over. But there they are! I apparently forgot to note which variety these were, but they're lovely. Deep purple skins, creamy interiors. I planted a pound and I think I got five or six pounds back. Nowhere near enough for a winter's supply, clearly, but I'm treating this as my training wheels year. And tonight I'll make something with the ones whose skins got scraped in the digging. Maybe the purple green beans, too. Food season!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

kitchen adventures: sourdough!

I've just eaten the first slice from my first loaf of from-scratch sourdough! This feels like a big accomplishment even if the technique for future loaves could use some refining.

I started this project about two weeks ago, when I collected a bag of hard red wheat flour from a local farmer (wheat they grew over on the Olympic peninsula, their own milling). I cultured the starter from scratch, following the instructions in Wild Fermentation to feed and coax and fuss over the flour soup until its yeasts developed enough to make it thick and bubbly. Yesterday I had a fluffy, rising jar of starter, so I figured it would be a good time to give the rest of the process a shot.

So in the morning I mixed one part starter, one part water, and two parts flour (more of the same bag) into a sort of porridge ("sponge"). The bowl got covered with a damp towel and ignored all day, 12 hours or so. Last night I took it down and added another two parts flour to make it a stiff bread dough, then kneaded it by hand until it had some spring.

At this point I diverged from instructions. It was bedtime, and we're having a heat wave, so very early and very late are the most comfortable times for baking. The book's instructions for the most basic sourdough loaf call for a double rise, first in a bowl/bucket to +50% bulk, then punched down and given a second rise in loaf pans. I just dumped the oiled dough into a loaf pan to leave it overnight.

And I think I can blame that for the ultimate texture -- well, that and the use of all whole-wheat flour, probably. But what I have is denser and flatter than commercial sourdough; it doesn't have the airy interior texture that I'm used to. When the weather is cooler sometime I'll try switching up the timing so I can do the double-rise and see how much that changes.

And the flavor? Pretty interesting! Less tang, less sharpness, than I expected, probably because I started it pretty much as soon as the starter seemed willing to play along. A sweet graininess in there somewhere from the whole wheat. The starter smelled, well, weird, and I wasn't really sure if I liked it, but that note has backed off a lot in the finished product.

It's not a perfect product by any means, but for a first attempt at a completely new process I'm pleased.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

by far the cutest of my neighbors

S/he's apparently the last of a lineage of escaped/released easter gift rabbits from several years back; they used to terrorize the whole street in gangs, and no garden was safe. This is the toughest and wiliest survivor of the lot. Who was enjoying some sheep sorrel at the edge of my driveway when I got home this evening.

notes to self

Some things to study and work on implementing as time and seasons allow:

http://www.tenthacrefarm.com/2013/10/front-yard-rainwater-catchment/ and http://www.tenthacrefarm.com/2014/02/using-swales-in-the-landscape-part-2/ (and really probably just browse the "water catchment" tag in that whole blog)

http://brinkoffreedom.net/homesteading/how-to-plant-a-cherry-tree-guild/ and http://midwestpermaculture.com/2013/04/plant-guilds/ - that second one especially, tho it will need to be translated to PNW climate needs

I threw out my back this last weekend trying to lift too many bricks at once, so of course this is a good time to ponder building earthworks. Our seasonal rainfall pattern, though, it is a menace.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

home comfort

It's amazing what literally tiny things can be so uplifting. This morning I sat on the patio and watched the clover patch, while three different kinds of bees buzzed around in it and sampled the flowers. Sunlight, warmth, living things going about their business: what a solid, simple pleasure.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

one down

The energy upgrade project is done! I've signed the final paperwork, had the electrical inspection, the works. The house is now fully insulated -- walls, attic, crawlspace, pipes and ductwork -- and the oil furnace is gone, replaced by a heat pump. That's one major goal accomplished!

Now comes the part where I pay for it, of course, which is less exciting. I did this whole thing through a local incentive program, Community Power Works, that hooks homeowners up with rebates and financial incentives for reducing their energy usage. The whole rebate/incentive package knocked about $6,000 off the cost of the upgrades, and they got me a low-rate loan for the rest. But it's still debt, which I hate carrying (I had been completely debt-free for a few years before I got a mortgage to buy the house) -- the early part of a big loan, where your payments are more interest than principal, is the worst. Obviously I need to write some popular novels so I have a second income stream that I can just pour into loan payoff.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


It turns out I can only keep up with about 2/3 of my life at any given time. I have an unpleasant suspicion that this is how adulthood works for everyone. Anyway, this past week I have been keeping up with the writing part, and not so much with the gardenblogging part. So here, have a few instances of photos from the last week!

 My potato plants love life! I am looking forward to the treasure hunt part of the season.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

That's the north wall of the house. Even parked right up against it, there's enough light for this little guy to make a brave showing of it. What a nice thing to come home to!

Monday, June 2, 2014


Spent most of the weekend at Mother Earth News Fair, down at the state fairgrounds in Puyallup. Attended some cool workshops (and parts of some less-impressive ones), petted some very fluffy llamas, studied a variety of chicken breeds up close, and bought a pot of comfrey since I've had terrible luck getting it to start from seed (future me, if you're reading this: be less darwinian about starting new plants! it's okay to coddle them a little at the starting line) and a set of plug spawn for shiitakes. And just generally soaked in the weird all weekend. The fair brings out an interesting cross-section of people, including small farmers who are happy to have a market for their rare breeds of pigs, hippies who want to discuss their global herbalism tradition, historical reenactors demonstrating 19th-century crafts, libertarians who want government out of the liquor-tax business, and white people who are all about "primitive" survival skills. Very much a place where you need to take what works for you and ignore the rest.

So I feel really pleased and really lucky that the one book I came home with was Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation, because that was a pretty darn perfect match. Not only is the subject fascinating to me, but Katz's take on the fermented-food revival is refreshingly reasonable (we did have someone literally try to sell us a "miracle" soda at the fair)—and he interweaves the recipes themselves with enough background on where they developed, the group of DIY Radical Faerie communards with whom he lives, that the sense of shared experience and joy is contagious. I've read the whole thing cover to cover already.

Also I have a batch of plum vinegar started on top of the refrigerator now. Perfect timing to "recycle" a couple of plums that were getting a little too squishy to eat.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Of course since I put all my tomatoes out, the weather turned chilly again. I hope they're okay back there, getting bullied around by too much wind and not getting the heat and sunshine they were hoping for. On the bright side, I pulled a few out of their pots to thin before planting, and the pulled ones were almost as nice as the winners, so I stuck them in the dirt on their own, with a decent length of stem underground to see if they'd root from it, and so far they're not wilting! Ugh, I want summer, though. And enough nice warm weather to make me feel like putting the rest of the warm-season seeds in.

The cotton experiment is going well so far (inside, of course); all twelve of the seeds I planted have germinated, with big fat cotyledons that look almost succulent. It's going to be a huge gamble to try to bring them all the way to the end of their season before our cold-and-rainy one comes back, but gosh darn it I'm excited to try. Especially if the blue ones do well.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Name this plant

My best guess is that this is a calendula, but I'm really not sure. It's about 8-10 inches high, one of several that have volunteered in the front garden this spring and just started to bloom. My other not-so-educated guess was a zinnia, but I don't think it has densely-layered enough petals for that, and the yellow-orange range seems to be the calendula groove. Can anybody confirm or deny?

Friday, May 23, 2014

cultivating my zen

(Mom warning: this is a fussy post. Don't worry, I'm ok. I'm just whining.)

Given the amount of yard I want to turn into garden, the idea of tearing up, turning, and amending all that soil by hand is daunting. Which is why clever humans who came before me invented tillers, right?

Earlier this year I rented a gas-powered monster of a tiller for a day, and used it to tear up the spot that now houses (most of) my strawberries. And I hated using it. It was noisy, stinky, and honestly pretty terrifying -- I'm not a very large person, and the tiller probably weighed at least a third as much as I do, so when the throttle was open and the thing got into gear it would just...drag me along behind it, bumping alarmingly, until I remembered that letting go of the handles would make it stop. Ugh.

It was also hideously expensive to rent, so much so that buying a smaller electric tiller-cultivator plus a 100-foot outdoor extension cord was barely more expensive than having the gas tiller around for a day. Surely, I thought, if I had a more manageable tiller on hand, I could use it whenever the occasion arose! Whenever I needed to work more amendments into existing beds, or expand what I was working on! So I bought one. And got it assembled. And wheeled it out to the starting line.

And it wouldn't turn on.

Last night I was working on a deadline, trying to get things out of the side of the kitchen bed that I'm about to lose to heat pump installation, so I just fussed for a few minutes, then put it back in the tool shed and changed my plans, moving the refugee plants into different spots in already-workable ground. It's the worst possible time to be transplanting things, I'm pretty sure; there were strawberry plants with flowers and immature berries on them, wobbly bits of mostly-established chard, and a struggling iris being bullied hideously by a pack of dahlias. I don't know if any of them will survive -- but they'll have a better chance than they would have under the heat pump installation, at least.

On the bright side, while doing the transplanting, I dug up a good dozen plum-sized dahlia bulbs that were choking that lone iris, and they are apparently edible, so I just might peel them and roast them along with the golden beets I have on hand right now.

I was complaining about machinery, wasn't I?

Anyway, I know the next step here is troubleshooting, once I have the time to do it: I hadn't used the outdoor outlet before, so I'll need to test that first, then the extension cord, to see if the problem is there instead of with the tiller itself. Wasn't I just talking about how important it is to give myself permission to fail as part of the learning process? Somehow it's easier when it's not in an area (operation of machinery, a "manly" pursuit) where I'm already self-conscious about not having skills or experience. Hfff. This too shall pass.

This too shall pass, and I'll get enough ground turned to put in corn before the summer really gets going, and maybe we'll get a crop of it. And I'll learn from this. It's a process.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

morning Ren

Why would I do such a cruel and unjust thing as go to work. He just doesn't know.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


We seem to be moving into the warm-ish and dry season -- temperatures in the high 70s in the daytime, clear weather, lots of sun. I was out of town for a few days and came back to all sorts of things enjoying the weather: my fruit trees have finished blooming and are thinking about fruit; the tiny blueberry bushes are putting out some blossoms; the strawberries are blossoming and starting to set fruit; the lilies in the kitchen bed are approaching waist-high and budding. And the tomatoes, which have been living inside, are growing like mad.

Monday I was home from my trip but had taken the day off work, planning to use it for recovery time. Only I also scheduled the electrician to come out and do the panel replacement work I'd need before I got the heat pump in, so they had to turn the power off for a considerable fraction of the day. Which means no internet! No video games! Time to go outside and work on things!

I ripped a lot of weeds out of the front garden beds, enough to make them actually look like garden beds instead of mysterious tangles of non-grass foliage. Then I stirred a bit of compost into the cleared spots and planted some feverfew, borage, and bee balm seeds. We'll see how they do! It's not the sunniest spot on the property but actually gets a decent amount of light when the sun isn't directly south (i.e., mornings and late afternoons). I neglected to take any pictures of that bit, but I did take a gratuitous bee photo since there were several cute little fuzzbees hanging around the azaleas while I worked next to them:

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Repotted the sturdiest of my tomato starts yesterday!
Here you see some of the valiant little things. The ones started in coir pots seem to be, on average, doing better than the ones in makeshift newspaper pots -- I think I'd put that down to the coir retaining moisture a little better.

Also planted some bergamot (bee balm) at the edge of the shade-garden area. My capable assistant included for a size comparison.

In addition to my own tomatoes, I am now the proud owner of two gallon-potted beauties who were started in February at the nursery; the plants stand a foot tall and are lush with leaves, thick-stemmed and sturdy. I want to be able to make mine do that! I suspect they were using a lot of artificial light to accomplish it, though, since the amount of sun we get in the spring is not remotely conducive to getting tomatoes excited. Early tomatoes vs. lower-energy impact systems: a dilemma.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Peace is only for the dead and the dying

When I was a teenager I had a creepy boyfriend (okay, several, but one relevant to this post) who, among his other self-aggrandizing habits, used to insist that the apocalypse was coming, that he would go down fighting in a heroic last stand against The Encroaching Darkness. (We lived in the middle of nowhere, okay. It was grand fantasies or hanging out in the Taco Bell parking lot, as far as entertainment options went.) He had a date set and everything. The date was fourteen years ago today.

So it feels somehow appropriate that my feed reader handed me a great post this morning on the apocalypse NOT coming, and the things that underlie all the dire prophecies. I'm still not optimistic about the large-scale future, but these days I'm a lot more on board with a vision like Kelly Coyne's definition of the Crappening. It doesn't have the bombast and melodrama that appeal to you if you're a teenager or a Hollywood executive, but it does have a higher survivability rate (at least as long as we're using a shorter timeline than Tyler Durden's).

And Coyne's heavy-laden burro is a comforting image for me today, in the same way that the refrain titling this post is a comforting mantra. Peace is only for the dead and the dying. You're carrying something heavy; sometimes things are rough; sometimes you have a long hill to climb. But it's okay: that's life. There are hard bits. It's going to shake you up. But you can still keep going, because that's what you do. The point is not the end of the road. The point is that you're walking.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I'm tired a lot of the time, whether that's the comfortable physical exhaustion of "just raked up and hauled 15 gallons of camellia petals back to the fledgling compost pile" or the less comfortable emotional exhaustion of being lonely and wishing my stuck-in-another-time-zone roommate could come home. But the year keeps moving, and things keep growing, whether I have the energy to properly pay attention or not.

The asparagus is determined to live, and I am rooting for it.

Three of the four pear varieties on the tree are blooming by now; this picture was taken a few days ago when the very first buds were unfolding.

And the central trunk of my pie cherry is blossoming as determinedly as it knows how.

I'll be removing the spent blossoms from all the fruit trees this year, so the plants focus on getting established instead of trying to find the energy for fruit. It feels like there's a metaphor in there somewhere, maybe for coping with depression, maybe for the first year of homeownership, maybe both. Whatever, it's a metaphor with room for cherry blossoms. That makes it a good one.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

not the lawn you're looking for

You get a tremendous amount of spam in your physical mailbox as a new homeowner. Among the predatory attempts to get involved in my mortgage payments and the "no really this is economical" brochures from companies that want to sell me oil for the furnace I'm replacing, the one that has bemused me most was one from a lawn service company, which might be the most impressive piece of scare fluff I've seen outside of Faux News.

Your lawn isn't the only thing growing right now, it warns on the outside. (I should hope not, given the amount I've spent this year in both money and time to establish new species.) Inside the envelope, the contents get more explicit, but only slightly: Weeds are a serious threat to your lawn right now. That's in bold and set off like a headline, so obviously it's important. Right? The text beneath talks about weeds "such as dandelions" doing their best to "stake a claim" on my yard, and exhorting me to "fight back." It doesn't go into details about what the dandelions will do with their seized territory, but presumably it's something nefarious. Maybe they're in league with the terrorists.

But fear not! With the help of this noble-spirited lawn company and their Science, my lawn can be saved! And it'll only cost $29.95 for the lawn's "first application." No details on the application, either, but if it has an essay question I have doubts about my lawn's ability to get accepted.

In case I haven't been swayed yet, the flyer attempts peer pressure. Over 30 of your neighbors already have [our product]. What are you waiting for? Apart from the fact that if 30 of my neighbors jumped off a bridge that would not, in fact, be a good reason for me to jump.... Either these guys are very creative in their definition of "neighbor" or their SCIENCE isn't as effective at promoting monoculture as they insist it is: all the yards I can see from my own are playing host to The Fluff-Seeded Menace right now. Good gods, the whole street is in league with the forces of evil!

I think of the company every time I hack up another square foot of grass to make room for herbs or berries or something. Not only am I failing to properly secure my borders against the evils of WEEDS, I'm sabotaging the grass itself. Suddenly I'm not just planting things that I want to grow, I'm attacking the very foundation of Proper Lawns, vandalizing the great symbol of homeownership. Nothing like a little illicit activity to get the blood pumping and the energy up!

So thanks, lawn guys. You've added a lot to my yard-tending experience, without any applications at all.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

if you have any spare patience, please send it my way

So Minter's is still there! And likely to be in the Renton location through August, as of talking to them yesterday. After I walked around for a while wearing Earl-the-kitty as a scarf, I found some things that clearly I still needed. Since my existing plantings aren't doing things fast enough. er.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tiny as they are, these guys are thinking about blooming! Pear first, then peach. What pretty little things.

The fig might be joining them (I mean, I hope it is, given its maturity). It's such a pretty time of year.

Friday, April 11, 2014

springing all over the place

I might have gotten a bit carried away taking pictures yesterday afternoon. But it's so nice outside! And things are waking up and getting excited!

The pear starting to unfurl! Looking forward to seeing the actual leaves come forth. (The Ubileen branch is budding along with the others, though it remains slower.)

My phone for some reason thought the grass was the important part of this shot, rather than the plump little cherry leafbuds. Not as smart as you think you are, phone.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


No pictures today, because I didn't think to take any while I was working last night, but what a beautiful day yesterday! Mostly sunny and high around 70. I got home from work with enough light left to hoe the back bed, turn in a little compost, plant garbanzo beans and two kinds of potatoes, put together my new lawnmower, and get my goumi into the ground. The poor thing wanted to get out of that pot a year ago; I think there were more roots than dirt in there. Hopefully it will adjust well to its new spot (and the bees doofing around the garden will come investigate while it's still blooming).

Monday, April 7, 2014

I might have a problem

I don't think I'm patient enough for this plant-growing stuff. I keep going to grab more things and stick them in the dirt when the existing ones aren't doing things yet. (did you know garbanzo beans come in black? now you do.)

Have some photos from this past weekend:

Frankenpear! I am a little worried about this guy. Ok, not about this part exactly, but you see all those nice fat buds getting ready to open?

Here's a different angle where you can see the one branch (up front) that is lagging way behind. It's the variety that got grafted on right at the top, and I suspect that means it's getting the last share of nutrients coming up from the roots, so it's a little slow and sad. This winter I will have to read up on caring for combination trees and keeping varieties in balance. (The apple has the opposite problem; the Gravenstein branch wants to outperform all the others.)

Monday, March 31, 2014

frost :/

Seattle, you can cut that out any minute now.  (Reports vary, but we're probably past our average last frost date.) Frost on the grass this morning when I left for work, and that can't be doing any of my seedlings or recent transplants any good. I'm selecting for hardiness though, right?

Despite some torrential rain on Saturday morning and some visits on Sunday that wound up taking a lot more of the day than I expected, I still got a few things done. The broccoli rabe at the far end of the garden had finally bolted beyond repair:

So I tore out most of it to leave room in the bed for other things (like potatoes!). I'm leaving a few of the hardiest plants to see if I can collect seed from them once their flowering is done. They apparently require insect pollination, so we'll see how well they were served—I haven't seen bees at these flowers in particular, but they're definitely already in the garden.

...That photo also provides an excellent view of the reason I want to put in a filbert hedge along my south fence.

Cleared those out, planted shallots in among the oats that may or may not come up, tucked in some bulbs in beds and corners for things that just flower instead of making food. And then I had the afternoon to myself and nobody stopping me, so I went up to City People again. Where I bought seed potatoes of two varieties, and some sulfur to amend the soil for my little blueberries—those were my actual reasons for going—and then because I shouldn't be allowed in garden stores unsupervised I also bought a huckleberry and a salmonberry, both in gallon pots. Someday it will be possible to eat everything on my property. (Fear me, lawn. Your days are numbered.)

Friday, March 28, 2014

a quick book rec

Okay, two books, really.

All the books on modern homesteading, traditional skill preservation, raising food, etc., have their own spin, and like the techniques they outline, they're a very YMMV business. The ones that are really working for me? The Urban Homestead and its follow-up Making It, by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen (find them online at Root Simple). The authors are very clear on the YMMV aspect and stress flexibility in their suggestions, and they offer a lot of practical project advice for growing food in limited space, making the most of your resources, decreasing your dependence on outside resources—and they make it sound like it'll be fun and an adventure, like you don't have to get everything perfect to succeed (which was an attitude that really put me off an otherwise-helpful garden book for my region recently). I keep wanting to recommend them to friends for one project or another—the potato-growing tower made of used tires, or the chapter on urban foraging, or the explanation of how to decipher esoteric beer recipes and not be intimidated by the snobs of the homebrew world.

If you get the same kind of mileage I do, basically, these books could take you places.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ground work

I've seen advice from a few people suggesting that one of the things you should plan to do in the first year of a new homestead is planting whatever fruit trees you want to grow there -- they're a long-term project, so you want to put the trees to work doing their growing business as soon as possible. And by happy coincidence, I moved into my new place about a month before the growing season starts around here. (Mind you, it goes slowly for the first month or two, when the days aren't so long yet and the weather is still cool and rainy. But it's started! Things are blooming! This is important.)

So one of the first things I did was place an order with Raintree Nursery. Okay, no, the FIRST thing was to browse their entire catalog as if it were some esoteric cross between archaeological discovery and porn. ("aaaahh, those blueberries look so goooood," and "I could grow medlars! I don't even know what a medlar is!" and so on.) But eventually I sat down with my new roommate and picked out a variety of trees, some that were actually planned and some that were excitable impulse buys ("Paw paws! I've always wanted to eat a paw paw!").

Monday, March 24, 2014

Kindling the hearth fire

2014: The year I finally stopped dreaming about one day having a home and land and homesteading goodness, and instead took the plunge and did it. It isn't quite what I had in mind; I'd pictured doing this on five acres or so in the middle of nowhere, enough room for grains and livestock and wildness... But I have a job in the city, and I don't have a car of my own, and I have friends in the city that I want to stay close to. So instead what I have is a little mid-century rambler on a big lot within spitting distance of city limits, with a pre-established vegetable garden and beautiful mature fig tree, and enough room (and southern exposure) to tuck in more food plants all over the place. Not enough room for goats, but maybe next year there'll be chickens.

And the name? Well, I'm a huge nerd, is all. I sat down with a Sindarin-English dictionary and combed through it for ways to build a name that I liked. Faellorn, depending on how you read fael, means either "generous haven" or "haven of the just." It's a heavy geas to lay on myself right out of the gate, but the weight is comfortable.

Come in. Warm yourself by the hearth fire. Be welcome.