Thursday, August 27, 2009

Decor to Dye For

I don't like bathroom rugs with the rubberized non-slip stuff on the bottom. My bathroom isn't big enough to get up to slipping speed, and our heavy tile floor is uneven enough to provide a non-slip surface as it is. I like heavy reversible cotton rugs, easy to shake out and easy to wash.

But for some reason, those are hard to find, even more difficult because I'm looking for matching rugs in three different sizes. I like a big one in front of the sink cabinet, only have room for a smaller one to step out of the bathtub/shower onto, and then also like a U-shaped one in front of the toilet (tile on a cement-slab with only a woodstove for heat = very cold floors). I found what I was looking for in white, but didn't like how stark they looked. A bottle of dye and a go-round in the washing machine took care of that!

I love the way the rugs look now! The tan color just seems more serene. Since I'm posting a photo of my bathtub, I might as well point out another part of my decor I really like. We live in a small house, with only one bathroom (that also doubles as the laundry room). The bathtub is also a shower, and that's how we usually use it. So to have all the bathing-type accessories easily accessible to a standing user, it makes sense to hang them up. But the plastic shower caddies that hang over the shower head really wouldn't fit my decor, and besides, then you've got water running over your soap. Instead, I have a copper 3-tiered basket hanging from a chain on a ceiling hook above the other end of the tub. An old luffa, cut to fit, lines the top basket, with just enough room for a couple of tilted soap racks, the middle basket holds razors and brushes, the bottom one for bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Clothespins on the top edge hold luffas, a pouf, and shower cap where they can dry. Everything just drips back into the bottom of the tub. And everything is also up out of the way when using the bathtub for baths (or washing the dog, or cleaning blinds or the dehydrator racks). Best of all, it looks uncluttered and there's nothing around the edge of the tub to move when scrubbing the tub either.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Root-Pruning Cabbage

Dang! Usually I don't have to worry about my cabbages splitting until mid-September. They do just fine on their every-third-day soaker hose watering. But we had a very-rare-in-August rainy morning yesterday, and today this is what I found.

Split cabbages will continue growing, but the leaf-edges die where the split is, and any layers down inside that are cut off from the stem also die. So using a split cabbage gets more difficult the longer you leave it. I'd just cut a fresh head a couple of days ago, but this one will now be used first.

I have another one just starting to split, and three more heads still intact. I don't have much room in my refrigerator. It's too early to be making sauerkraut - I haven't ever started the cellar to cooling down. The warmer the temperature, the faster kraut ferments. I prefer letting my kraut ferment slowly, over eight to twelve weeks, in Fall's cooler cellar temperatures (I don't can my sauerkraut either - I just store it in the crock over the Winter in the cellar, and move what's left into the refrigerator in the Spring). So I want to keep my cabbages "on the hoof" out there in the garden as long as possible.

Splitting happens when cabbages take up too much water too quickly. Yesterday's rain was enough to cause it here. They're also prone to splitting as they get closer to harvest size. In our short season, early cabbages usually grow just fine until early fall, and then root-pruning will hold them until harvest time, just before the nights drop below freezing.

Today, I cut the top right split cabbage, and root-pruned the rest. I just sunk the shovel blade all the way in between each cabbage stem and the soaker hose. This cuts a good portion of the roots and slows the growth. Old-timers say to give a good quarter-twist to each plant to break off some of the roots, but I'm afraid of breaking the stem and/or not breaking enough of the roots so will just stick with my shovel method. I'll keep an eye on the top left one. If that split starts to go deeper, I'll have to get it into the refrigerator too. This year, I'm also growing some late cabbage for the first time, just to see how it does. It hasn't even started to head yet, so I'm hoping for a long, mellow Fall - cabbage to store, and a slowly-fermenting crock-o-kraut in the cellar.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Do You Suffer From OCD?

Do you find yourself stalking every laden fruit tree in your entire neighborhood? Do you need a flatbed truck to get your Farmers Market purchases home? Is everyone on your gift list (and even those that don't know they're on your list) getting a jar of jelly this year? You might be suffering from OCD (Obsessive Canning Disorder - I totally stole that from Throwback at Trapper Creek). If so, you might benefit from reading my most recent post over at the SGF Co-op blog. Check it out!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Start the Water Boiling - It's Applesauce Time

So, my canning season has started. I don't get fruit crops every year, depending on how our late Spring frosts hit, but this year have various apples, pears, Asian pears, plums, peaches, and red grapes. I dry a lot of my fruits, make bumper crops into hard cider, freeze some things, and can a bit. Canning a batch or two of applesauce is on my must-do list every year.

The birds and ground squirrels got all my Gravenstein apples (and most of the Italian prune plums). But the Freedom apples weren't far behind in the ripening schedule and for some reason haven't been as badly attacked (yet). I've hung junk CD's in the branches of most of my fruit trees, hoping the sunlight flashing off the shiny sides twisting in the breeze will startle the birds away, and Aries put up a pole for a whirly-gig too.

I pruned the tree quite a bit earlier this year to open up its shape, and thinned the fruit set while I was at it. So I have some nicely-sized fruit, easy to reach, and very little insect damage. The apples have a nice flavor and crunch for just eating out of hand, but are also supposed to be good for juice and sauce.

I had two half-pints of applesauce left in my pantry. Two days ago, I picked a couple big bowlfuls of the Freedom apples, and sat down in front of a movie on TV to quarter, core, and peel them all. I got them all prepped, soaking in a lemon juice solution, and then had to get ready to go work a tourist outing up at Lake Tahoe. So I put the whole pot into the refrigerator for the night. Yesterday, I drained the apples, put an inch or so of apple juice into the pan, covered it, and started them simmer/steaming. I'd already checked - I had plenty of lids on hand, so I got out a bunch of empty half-pints (the best applesauce size for the two of us), and got lots of jars and rings into my big canner full of water, and started that to heating.

When the apples were soft, I mashed them with a potato masher right in the pot (no sugar, no spices, just apples cooked in a bit of juice - I can always dress it up when I open up individual jars). I've cut notches in 2-pint increments into the handle of a wooden spoon. By standing that up in a pot of sauce I know how many jars it will fill. Even so, I don't put the lids into the hot water until after I have all my jars filled - no use prepping ones I won't need. I had enough for 16 half-pints. Hot jars are filled with hot applesauce to 1/4" headspace, rims wiped clean, hot lids and rings applied.

Our well water is a bit hard, so I always put a splash of vinegar in the water bath water. I process the jars, in the covered canner with water an inch over the top of the top layer of jars, for 10 minutes after the water comes back to a simmer. Set out on my cutting board, I leave them overnight to cool, listening for the lovely "plunk" (they used to "ping" - I think they've changed the thickness or center-shape of the lids in the past few years) as each jar seals.

This morning, all had sealed (yay!). The rings aren't necessary for storing sealed jars - I remove them and, once washed, keep them in a box under the counter. When I empty and then clean a jar, I put an old lid upside-down (to keep the old sealing compound from sticking to the rim) topped with a ring for storage - protecting the rim and keeping the empty jar clean (just hate dealing with boxes of dusty jars, with dead spiders in them). I give the sealed jars a quick rinse under cool running water, dry them off, and stick a little label with item and date on the lid (Mom just writes the date on the lid with a grease pencil). I don't have a big central canned goods storage area - each item has its own particular place. Nineteen jars of applesauce fit into the bottom of an old bread box in my little pantry - just about what the two of us will use in a year.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ahhh - Peace and Quiet

Oh, how wonderful! A peaceful, quiet start to the day once again. In addition to our chickens, we also have three guinea fowl: Grey, a feral male that just moved in and made himself at home; Missus, a hen needing a home when her owners moved; and Tweedit, their first offspring, hatched in October five years ago then hand-raised inside the house that first winter. The Bachelor, Missus' brother and Tweedit's mate, went missing a couple of years ago - probably fell victim to coyotes while ranging outside the fence.

Tweedit and Missus both hide nests in the summertime, but we don't really want more guineas so we try to find and clean them out before the girls start setting. Tweedit did set a nest earlier this year, but none of her eggs were fertile. After losing her first nest when our neighbor found it in his shed, Missus hid another one deep inside a prickly desert peach thicket where we couldn't reach it. She brought three babies back home a couple of weeks ago (one died a couple of days later).

The dogrun up close to the house is set up as a poultry brood pen, with 1" chicken wire lining the bottom of the chain link fencing and a ground-level lean-to next to the dog house. With the enticement of a bit of birdseed, Missus walked her brood right in. Male guineas are usually pretty good fathers - staying near their mate while she's on the nest (although leaving each night to go back to their roost to sleep), and staying with the family, daytimes, after they've hatched.

In years past, the female in the brood pen will start calling to her mate, sleeping in the chicken coop overnight, at daybreak. Guineas are LOUD!! Both genders will make a one-note AWK! AWK! AWK! alarm call (they make excellent watchdogs). Plus, only the females also make a two-note call: BUCKWHEAT! BUCKWHEAT! (we don't sex the babies - waiting until they start calling is the only way we can tell gender). Either way, a guinea's call sounds like a very loud rusty pump handle screeching - not really the thing you want up near your bedroom as a general rule.

So that means when we have baby guineas (called keets) in the brood pen, we get woke up at the crack of dawn (maybe what she's really saying is "COME HELP! COME HELP!"). So I'll stumble out, trying to not open my eyes too much so I can go back to sleep, and open the chicken coop. In the past, Grey's been a really good mate - as soon as I'd open the coop he'd be first out, fly up onto the gate, jump down, run up to the brood pen, and go right inside to spend the day with Missus. Peace and quiet, and I can go back to bed.

But this year, Tweedit didn't have any babies to tend, so she's been out and fancy-free all summer. She and Grey foraged together whilst Missus sat her nest. And once Missus was up in the brood pen, Grey decided he'd rather hang with Tweedit. That meant, for the past two weeks, Missus starts calling at first light, AND DOESN'T SHUT UP!

I can get cranky if I don't get enough sleep. It was time for the babies to go! So, yesterday, we put a listing for free guinea chicks on Craigslist and gave them away within hours. Once the babies were gone, Missus rejoined Tweedit and Grey, and all were back in the coop last night. And I got to sleep in this morning.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Our Bike Valet Rack

I spent quite a bit of time this weekend sitting on various folding chairs outside. Luckily, it was a beautiful weekend to be doing just that.

Saturday morning, it was my turn again to staff our bicycle valet booth at the downtown Farmers Market. Saturday evening, Aries wanted to take our little Honda to the last Run-What-Ya-Brung Show-n-Shine downtown, so we spent a few hours there, visiting with all and sundry. Then, Sunday evening we volunteered at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor - getting there early to help people get settled in their seats, getting our dinner just before the show started, and then sitting back to enjoy "Much Ado About Nothing" under the stars.

We had a new piece of equipment for our bicycle valet - a bike-hanging bar. Just when I finished putting it put together, someone walking by asked if it was a hitching post for horses (it could happen - this is still a bit of an old-West type of town). I explained it was for a modern type of steed. One of our Muscle Powered members made the rack so we could easily fit more bicycles into a small space.

It's built a bit like a pipe saw horse. Jeff took a long piece of 2.5" pipe and cut criss-crossing holes for 1" pipe legs on each end. For storage or transport, the leg pipes can slide inside the big pipe. A bolted-on wrap-around bracket (I'm not technical, so not sure of the real name for it - just look at the picture) near the top of each leg stops the big pipe from sliding down further, making a stable standing rack.

When assembled, the big pipe stands about 4' high. Wrapping the crossbar pipe with old bicycle innertubes gives it a padded, non-slip surface. People just wheel their bike underneath and then lift and hook the front part of the seat over the bar. The front wheels of the bigger adult bikes rest on the ground, smaller ones and the children's bikes hang completely from the bar.

I brought a thermos of cafe au lait, some cotton yarn and a crochet hook. I had a nice place to sit, under the sunshade, with lots of folks stopping by to visit. There was a great duo providing live music. I spent a very contented morning, out in the fresh air, feeling so much a part of this wonderful community.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Washoe Zephyr

Temperatures are back into our normal summertime range once more - days around 90F, nights around 50F. And our Washoe Zephyr is back again too. As Mark Twain put it, in Roughing It:

The "Washoe Zephyr" (Washoe is a pet nickname for Nevada) is a peculiarly Scriptural wind, in that no man knoweth "whence it cometh." That is to say, where it originates. It comes right over the mountains from the West, but when one crosses the ridge he does not find any of it on the other side! It probably is manufactured on the mountaintop for the occasion, and starts from there. It is a pretty regular wind, in the summer-time. Its office-hours are from two in the afternoon till two the next morning; and anybody venturing abroad during those twelve hours needs to allow for the wind or he will bring up a mile or two to leeward of the point he is aiming at. (more of the quote here; BTW the Washoe (WA-show) are the local Native American tribe)

So that means if I'm hanging laundry out, that I have it back in by early afternoon (not a problem - it's dry within an hour), or risk having to go fetch it from the far corner of the lot. The umbrella on the deck makes a nice shady place for lunch, but must be down shortly afterwards or it will end up in the next county. Since I wear contact lenses, I always make sure I've got a pair of wrap-around sunglasses handy whenever I'm outside. At least, I know if I want to get away from the wind, all I have to do is get up into the pine trees just a few miles to the west.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Oh, Brrrrr!

I know, not the normal thing you say in August, is it? But we've got a cold front moving through today and into the evening. Attention weekend campers: they're even forecasting SNOW above 8,000 feet tonight. We live right about 5,000, so no snow here (I hope). But we have had bits of rain off and on this afternoon and our temps here are expected to be in the low 40's by sunrise tomorrow.

Saturday, August 8th, is Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbors' Porch Day, so that's what I wrote about for my turn on the Simple Green Frugal Co-op Blog, including a couple of my favorite zucchini recipes. I just picked my first zucchini last week, but might have enough by Saturday to hang a bag on a couple of doorknobs nearby.

No tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, corn or beans yet. I pulled the shallots a couple of days ago, and set them out to cure. I had to scurry out quick to get them out of the rain and into the shed earlier. We're feasting on the early cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli here lately.

And one more little item - new mouths to feed: When I went out, dodging raindrops, to collect eggs this afternoon (an even dozen!), I noticed all three guineas were over under the fruit trees. Since Missus has been missing-in-action for a few weeks (figured she had a nest hidden somewhere), it was nice to see she's still around. And then, when they all came over to beg for birdseed, I saw she had three little day-old keets (one grey and two black) toddling behind. We use the dog run as a brood pen, so I quickly set up a little waterer and some chick starter in a low pan inside. Shaking the birdseed scoop, I enticed all three adults into the pen, babies following along. At dusk, Missus had settled down inside the doghouse lean-to. I opened the gate to let Tweedit and Grey out, and they headed down to the chicken coop for the night. It's nice to see that Missus knows enough to get those babies out of the wind and rain.