Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lizard's Alive

I'd just hung the big laundry items out on the clothesline, and came back in to get the little collapsible rack to set out on the patio for the socks and underwear. Albert, the cat, met me at the bathroom door with a mouthful of lizard (see last paragraph of April 27th post). He promptly spit it out, but this time I was faster. I scooped up the lizard and took him back outside (the cat is still looking for it in the bathroom). Most of our lizards are a dull dark color, but this one was quite pretty, light and dark grey with some almost iridescent turquoise scales on his back (and with his tail still intact). Let's hope he's learned to stay away from the cat!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In Pursuit of Peas

I garden in a pretty harsh climate - it can freeze any time until early June, and then the daytime temperatures can be up in the 90's overnight. Nights cool down to the 40's so using mulch too early in the season cools the soil too much for effective germination of many seeds. We average only seven inches of precipitation annually, and most of that in the form of snow November to March. Most years, we have no rain at all from May through September so everything has to be artificially irrigated. Afternoon winds and hot daytime temperatures make spray watering wasteful, so I use 50' soaker hoses on my wide garden beds.

The land also slopes downward towards the east so instead of long rows, I've free-form shaped each bed into a flattened "S" shape to create a terraced effect on the slope, and arranged the four "S" shapes of the main garden into a decorative four-square. With wider paths between the beds and a small central circular flowerbed with a sundial, my garden is attractive as well as productive (bottom center on the aerial photo of our lot; the grey roofed buildings are our neighbors' below us). I rotate my crops around through five beds, so don't have any permanent structures as part of any one bed. Everything gets taken apart and stored at the end of the season, and reconstructed anew each Spring. And this year, I've resorted to something different in my ongoing pursuit of peas.

Fresh-picked home-grown peas - nothing like what you buy in a store: memories of shelling English peas in the backyard as a child; flat Chinese pea pods still crunchy in a stir-fry; grazing on raw Snap peas right there in the garden. I love peas, and haven't had a decent crop for years. The past couple of years, I was able to protect the young plants with wire until they got tall enough to survive assaults by bugs and birds, but wasn't getting many peas. Finally, I caught the guineas in the act of stretching up to eat the flowers before they had time to set fruit. And then this year, sparrows or quail got under the wire to the little pea plants as soon as they emerged from the ground (they got all the lettuce seedlings too, and almost destroyed the spinach that overwintered). Desperate for some fresh green things myself, it was time to take desperate measures!

It's getting late in the season for pea planting - if I wait too long the summer heat sets in, and that's it for the pea plants. So before replanting my pea patches, I soaked the seeds overnight and then kept them wet down with paper towels a couple of days until they started to sprout, then planted the sprouted seeds (I reseeded various lettuces too). My pea support trellises are t-posts pounded into the ground and then wire fencing wired between them - strong enough to both support pea vines and withstand our afternoon winds. And then, something desperate - I draped netting, originally designed to cover an entire fruit tree, over the entire "S" shaped bed, supported by the pea t-posts plus a few more here and there, held down with rocks and bricks. I think this just might work! I can leave the netting in place, and sit underneath when it's time to harvest. As long as the wind doesn't tear it apart, or a late heavy snow rip it down, I just might get good crops of both greens and peas. The heart of a gardener is ever hopeful.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Countdown to Denver

I've had so many different things going on lately, I feel like every day is just something more to cross off my list of things I have to do. I'm planning on taking off for a week to go visit my Mom in Denver, so I'm also trying to get garden things onto automatic pilot so Aries won't have to worry about plant stuff while I'm gone.

Saturday, the Democratic Women put on our annual fundraising Spring Luncheon and Fashion Show . In previous years I've been one of the models, but the past couple of years we've had local celebrities as models instead, so I was part of the raffle prize committee (which involves begging prize donations from local businesses). Sunday I spent in Reno at the Soroptimist Region Conference, with a few hundred other women from 60 clubs throughout Nevada and California.

Today, Aries helped me finish getting compost spread and dug into the last of the garden beds. I dug the last of the leeks from last year, put a few into the leek nursery bed to make more leeks for subsequent years' plantings, put some down into the cellar to keep for a bit, and made potato and leek soup for dinner (with cellared Yukon Gold potatoes, still keeping nicely down there, and my last stored garlic bulb; plus One-Hour French Bread). I thinned some of the seedlings I've got under lights in the guest room, and am debating whether I want Aries to start setting some of the cole plants out to start hardening off while I'm gone or just wait until I get back to do it myself. It snowed night before last, so there's really no hurry.

This year's four new little chickens - I guess they'd be called pullets now - are fitting in with the rest of the flock and spending their nights out in the coop. They still come back up to the dog run in the evening, so I catch and carry them down to the coop each night and then they go right in. Pretty soon, the dog run will be taken over by guinea Tweedit and her clutch - she's still patiently setting on her nest in the Oregon Grape out front. I hope she waits until I'm back from Denver to bring in her babies.

And one more thing: the cat brought something in the house this afternoon. I had the doors and windows open, and could hear him meowing inside when I was outside. I went in to see what was wrong, and he was squatting down with his back to me in the living room. I thought he might be sick or something, but when I came up to see if he was ok, something (not sure if it was a mouse or a lizard - I'm thinking the latter, I haven't seen mice around here since the owl moved into the pine trees across the street) scurried away from him and under the couch. So now I'm paranoid that I'll find out what it was when I go to put on my shoes in the morning.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Echo Summit and a Birthday Party

We took off for a couple of days to visit some of Aries' relatives near Sacramento. This trip, we took Highway 50 over the Sierras. First, we drove up out of our valley, over Spooner Summit and then down to and around the south end of Lake Tahoe.

Tahoe is said to be a Washoe Indian word, meaning Big Sky Water, and scenes like this make it easy to see why they named it that. The natural lake, more than 6,000 feet above sea level is so deep that it never freezes, and almost always reflects the color of the sky.

Once around the lake, we start to climb up out of the Tahoe Basin over Echo Summit. This narrow mountain road is one of the major routes between the Lake and California. The snow is finally starting to melt from the hillsides above, sending rivulets of water cascading down next to the road. The granite rises straight above the road on one side, and drops more than 1000 feet on the other; rooftops and trees dot the valley far below.

Dropping down the western slope, Desolation Wilderness is north of the highway. Despite the name, this wilderness area is one of the most accessible in California. It is 100 square miles of glaciated granite, dotted with many small lakes. Above the Twin Bridges trailhead, a quick glimpse of Horsetail Falls (in the middle of the photo, right below the saddle) shows quite a bit of water coming down. During the winter, the falls are sparkling white, blue and green ice; by September the water will slow to a trickle sliding down the rock face.

As the highway drops lower in altitude the snowbanks get smaller and smaller. By the time we've dropped down into the American River canyon, they're gone completely. As we continue westward, Springtime advances and by the time we reach the Apple Hill area above Placerville the trees are in full bloom; the Sierras just a snowy line on the eastern horizon.

We had a nice visit. One of Aries' cousins hosted a barbecue for her dad's 85th birthday. The brother of Aries' dad, his uncle is the only one of that generation left on either side of Aries' family. His other cousin flew in from Salt Lake City for the party, so it made for a nice reunion. While Aries and I had visited his uncle and aunt before, I'd never met these cousins. They're all great people and we had a wonderful time.

It was sooooo hot and humid down there though. After a couple of days, I'm so glad to get back to my cool and dry desert. I can wait a bit longer for summer to arrive, thank you.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Good Day, Bad Birds

I spent the better part of today working a garage sale. A little over a week ago, my Soroptimist Club decided to put one together as a fundraising event. We all needed to do some Spring cleaning anyway, and one of the members had an empty rental house we could use to stage it in. So, this past week we've used her empty garage to gather all our donations and get everything priced and sorted and ready. We made $1,200 to put towards our next year's Service projects! And we have the local domestic violence shelter coming by Monday to pick up everything left for their thrift shop.

When I got home, I went out to check on the early plantings out in the garden. The peas were (notice the past tense) all just starting to come up, and it's supposed to get hot the next couple of days so I turned on the water on them for a bit. This evening, when I went out to turn off the water, NO PEAS! They were covered with 2"x3" wire, shaped into boxes a few inches above the plants - just in case one of the the chickens got into the garden, they wouldn't be able to reach the new little plants or scratch in the wet dirt. But something (I'm thinking quail), got in under the wire and ate up every little pea sprout! Arrrrggghh!! I really want fresh peas, and haven't had much of a crop the past few years. I really thought the wire would do it, but now I'm thinking I'll have to try some kind of netting. I want peas!

Longtime readers of this blog might remember I occasionally write about my concert-ushering adventures with my sister. I expanded that idea for my most-recent post over on the SGF Co-op blog - lots of ideas about free fun by finding volunteer opportunities in your community; spending time instead money. Check it out!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Our Real Easter Egg Hunt

Now you see them:

Now you don't:

We get the fun of real egg hunts around here. Last week (April 10th) Tweedit, one of our guinea hens, stopped coming back to the coop at night. That meant either something got her or, more likely this time of year, she was now setting on a nest. So I started looking for her, and found her out front between a shed wall and some very prickly Oregon Grape (that's her tail feathers in the second photo - pretty good camouflage). Then, yesterday, when I saw her eating and getting a drink of water I ran to see what she was setting on. I counted 22 eggs. Usually a few don't hatch, and a few of the baby keets won't make it out of the nest, so I'm predicting she'll bring us a dozen babies on May 8th. My Old Farmer's Almanac says 26-28 days for a guinea incubation period. Anyone else care to place their bets?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April Update

Now that that Spring is peeping 'round the corner, I've been busy out and about. This means more things than ever to post about, and less time to post.

Monday was Aries' birthday, so I made him an apple pie (he'd rather have that than a cake). I used an unknown variety of apple, gleaned from an old tree in the old part of town (probably planted some time between 1880 and 1920), stored in the cellar since fall. The apples have kept well, and made a wonderful pie. After reading the post by Matron of Husbandry about grafting fruit trees, one of my projects this summer will be to grow out some crabapple shoots to use for grafting stock for scions I'll cut from that old tree next January. It's a wonderful apple - does well here, stores well, and works for applesauce, pies, and fresh eating. By grafting to crabapple rootstock, I'm thinking I can have those apples in a smaller-size tree in my own orchard.

I've started doing Pilates a couple of times a week. Each day after, I've been a bit sore but feel good about doing something for myself (this getting old is not for sissies). I've got this year's baby chicks out of the living room and into the dog run full-time now, moving the dog crate into the doghouse out there to shut them up in at night for predator-protection (great horned owls live in the pine trees across the street). I've started my garden seedlings in the bedroom, so made a lights set-up using a couple of old shop lights, drapery rods, a plank, and ladderback chairs. My daffodils are in full bloom outside. Some big double ones are too heavy for their stalks, so I use those for bouquets inside. I think a single blossom floating in an antique dessert dish on the bathroom counter looks like a water lily. Tomorrow, Oz-time, is my turn over at the SGF Co-op blog, so I posted about my pepper plans for this year. I've got a chicken roasting in the oven for dinner, and I'm off to Reno for a Sierra Club meeting this evening.