Friday, January 2, 2015

Garden Meme : End Of Month View

 In the run-up to Christmas I spent a lot of time in the kitchen baking and watching older Gardener's World shows on my mini fruit-based device. There is nothing like watching someone else do a significant amount of digging and weeding, unless it's watching someone else doing a lot of planting or pruning. Meanwhile it's cold and rainy outside and I'm in the kitchen making mince pies: it's the best of both worlds.

Stumpery in December
Of all the online shows I watched this year I particularly liked the Great British Garden Revival series, because everyone had their own fascinating and cherished axe to grind.

Here is a stumpery I constructed last March after watching Chris Beardshaw wander through Prince Charles' stumpery. I probably shouldn't mention them both in the same breath because Charles' stumpery is significantly more impressive than mine, not to mention the fact that it has its own head gardener. Mine only has me. No salary (with Head Gardener perks). No Prince Charles. No stumps even.

My stumpery was constructed in the area I call The Shade Garden, using random bits of driftwood I picked up at the beach (I live on a large island in the Pacific Northwest). These bits of wood aren't terribly practical because they tend to rot, but my theory is this: by the time they DO rot (two years hence), I'll have tired of having a stumpery and want to do something else with the space. The rotted wood can go in the Long Term Compost. It's a win-win situation.

Around the wood I planted primroses, hellebores, fritillaries, and a few miniature daffodils. It is perfectly lovely in spring, invisible in summer, and - distressingly - rather lacking in Serious Gloom in winter. I'm thinking it's the lack of large stumps. The white tubing (slightly-above-ground watering system) doesn't help, but it's there so it doesn't crack during freezes.

 Here is a side view of the giant hedge that renders my stumpery invisible in summer. I'm not entirely sure what it's made of, but there are at least three types of shrub. When we first moved here it was horribly overgrown and I intended to do some thinning, but when I saw all the birds flitting around, not to mention how it greened up and created a massive privacy screen, I decided to concentrate on making it thicker and fuller. I used a technique recommended by various Hedge Pundits, which mostly involved breaking the longer branches and forcing them sideways so they sprout out and create a thick barrier. Irritatingly, the hawthorn that dominates this section accumulated so much ivy this year that our Highly Fecund Squirrel Resident (aka HFSR) moved her nest out of the carport and into this tree. While I admire HFSR's tenacity (she has about 12 babies a year and is very industrious) I don't admire how she (along with her babies) chews up my soaker hoses, digs up my garlic, rootles around in my plastic trays, and generally makes a mess of everything, so I went in and cut out most of the ivy. In doing so I discovered where all the fluff from our barbeque cover had disappeared to. Nice.

Here is one of the winter vegetables I like to grow: purple sprouting broccoli. At least, I think it's purple sprouting broccoli; it could be white sprouting broccoli for all I know because the plant tag has mysteriously disappeared. Along with my memory.

The greenhouse has some trays of sprouting lettuces. I intend to plant these into a cold frame adjacent to the greenhouse in another month. Our garden is a bit of a heat sink even in winter. The container on the far left has grass seed so the cat has some green to munch on. The kids saw someone do this online (far more decoratively than I have done) and demanded that we do this because Toffee desperately NEEDS a cute little container of grass. I didn't want to go to TOO much trouble in case Toffee decides he isn't into grass, so I used a plastic tub instead of an adorable kitty-shaped boot-like object (and saved myself at least $20). Toffee is a very fickle cat. I'm also hoping he doesn't eat it then find a handy corner of the house to puke in (I look further ahead than my children).

It's hard to see but at the base of that wooden planter is a catnip plant. This is an outdoor treat I leave for Toffee. Unfortunately he seems to have some kitty friends who also like catnip, so periodically I have to protect it with some shelving, because Toffee only goes out when it's absolutely necessary. As in: when it's ABSOLUTELY necessary (cue frantic meows at 4am). He'd really rather I get him a litter box but that is never going to happen. 
Here is where I've planted the garlic this year. Right up against the house, under a peach tree and two nectarine trees. It's prime garden real estate but after getting white rot two years ago in the old garlic bed I've been hard pressed to find a new (and equally convenient) spot. Oh, and that fencing? It serves a dual purpose: to keep Toffee from thinking this is a large litter box and to keep HFSR from burying her acorns under my garlic. If you look slightly to the left (at about the third dwarf kale plant) you will see a slight depression: courtesy of HFSR. Or Toffee. Not sure.
One of my most concerted efforts has been in the Winter Vegetable Gardening department. I read books by people like Eliot Coleman or Mark Diacono and think "I want winter salads!" but the reality is that you need to be organized to have winter veg (that and attend Seedy Saturday lectures where you'll learn that celeriac needs to overwinter to grow to any significant size). The other photo is one of the artichokes. It looks as though they are going to survive the winter. They aren't the most stalwart of plants, sometimes easily killed during a freeze or a particularly wet winter. You also need to divide them regularly because they are, as a perennial, on the Shorter Lived side. Artichokes are another plant that hogs the garden real estate but I love them (I tried to resist saying "and true love lasts a lifetime" but I couldn't help myself).

Another encouraging photo: a Pink Lemonade blueberry with what looks like a seriously good crop of Potential Blossom.
This is the only blueberry I've got in a pot and as it gets shunted around the garden throughout the summer I'm surprised it is doing at all well. I haven't found the right place for it. I've got several pots in this situation. I'm not keen on this state of affairs but that's the way of gardening, isn't it? Some things work the first time and others take forever to figure out. At least the Pink Lemonade is forgiving. 

A Calamondin orange, one of the greenhouse residents, thick with blossom (and fruit). I was never a big citrus person before we moved here, but now I love them. They bloom in winter, which gives the greenhouse the most fabulous scent, one to rival sweet box (which I have in the front yard).

The garden always looks slightly uninviting in winter, something I've been trying to work on. In warmer seasons this is a rose border: Crown Princess Margarita, Pink Peace, and a rose I dug up from a rental house we once lived in. I didn't even notice it the first year because it was so neglected, and when we left I had a premonition that it would be even more neglected with the next tenants that I decided to take it with us. It's tall, pink, and deliciously scented. They compete with the comfrey, which I grow for fertilizer and for the bees. So far the comfrey is ahead by a nose, so that's another one for the Problems To Work On this spring.

The oak barrel in the distance has a fig tree. I'm not thrilled with this fig but I can't bring myself to uproot it and toss it, so I'm doing the next best thing: ignoring it.

Another area I intend to work on: this willow used to be an upright specimen, as in straight up and down. Those pieces of wood on its trunk were steps for the kids so they could climb up it. Over a space of six years it's leaned further and further over, until we had to remove the swing, the rope ladder, and the float swing. Finally my husband decided to scalp it. My mum has a neighbour who did this to their willow and it looks quite beautiful now - like a small green fountain. I'm hoping that this one will rehabilitate similarly.

That blue painting is another one of my beach driftwood finds. That's a blue whale painted on the front.

When we moved here all the apple trees looked like this. Witches knots. I've been working on them, which has been quite slow because I had to learn all about pruning fruit trees at the same time. I started an espaliered fence, only to discover that I'd used two tip-bearing apple trees when I was supposed to use non-tip-bearing apple trees. Oh joy, I thought. I didn't even KNOW there were such things as non-tip-bearing apple trees.

Another view I'd like to work on this spring. I want the word ENTICE to come to mind when I look down this alley. Right now the word that comes to mind is SLANTED. Not the same thing, somehow.

And finally, a view to the west. The Garry oaks add a note of gravitas to the scene, don't they?

This has been a post to go along with Patient Gardener's End of Month View meme, which you can find at this link.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Bird Business

I've had this post sitting here unfinished for at least ten days, due to the usual Christmas madness. However, after flicking through a few updates from much more regular bloggers, feeling slightly neglectful (and finding myself with a spare hour), I sat myself down in front of the computer and thought "finish this thing!"


 Here is our Official Resident Hummingbird. At least, I SAY he's our Official Resident Hummingbird but we're not on super intimate terms and I doubt I could pick him out of a lineup. He could be an offspring of our first Resident Hummingbird for all I know. Given how obsessed he is with keeping every other hummingbird away from his feeder, my rough estimate is that these birds can't last too long. 

Suffice to say that these are unusually territorial birds. It could be well below zero outside - all the feeders but his could be frozen and all the birds faint with hunger and cold - and  our bird would still say "BEGONE! This is my feeder and I don't share!" Every single time. Not a method I approve of, but there you have it.

Oh, and the feeder he's so intent on protecting? It's a good twelve feet away from all the other bird feeders. We've moved it three times, mostly so the other birds get a chance at the food in the other feeders. 

He dive bombs anyone who goes near his feeder, including me.


Here he is flying off, fed up with my constant camera clicking.

He doesn't suffer camera snappers fools gladly, sadly.

I like the way he sways his head back and forth as he surveys his perimeters.
Finally got a decent shot of a Stellar's Jay the other day. This is a moment of triumph, I tell you. These birds are rudely camera shy when in my back yard. Whenever they see that lens, no matter how I lurk, they let out an outraged squawk and fly away.                                                                                                                                     It's exasperating, particularly when there are twenty of them bouncing around on the Garry oaks.                                                                                                       Particularly when I've set up a special peanutty feeder just for them, just for our Camera Encounter. 
The other day I took approximately 78 shots of an odd encounter between a few Stellars jays and a Cooper's hawk - an encounter I've been told is quite common but I'd never actually witnessed before. I had no idea they were so fearless. This hawk, who single-handedly keeps the sparrow population in check, spends an hour most afternoons perched at the very top of the Garry oak, chewing on some unlucky small bird. He's very thorough, rarely leaving more than a teeny scrap behind when he's done. Ask me how I know? It was when I found a small yellow beak on the ground under the tree. Just the beak. Another time it was just a leg. A sparrow leg is a very small thing. Anyhow, he's thorough, our hawk.  

Here is the scene: hawk is that smallish body almost at the top of the tree. A jay is on the lower left branch, and you can't hear him but he's squawking loudly and looking very impertinently at the hawk. There's another one on the other major limb of the Garry oak but it's hard to see him. 
Looks kinda foolhardy, doesn't it, sitting there jeering at a hawk? The jay then makes his way up the tree to a branch about four feet away from the hawk. Unbelievably the hawk appears uneasy. He keeps glancing at the jay and has completely stopped grooming himself. 

Would you call this harassment? I think I would. Those jays are getting in that hawk's face. To clarify: our jays are migratory in these parts. They don't have a nest nearby. They aren't protecting anything. They're acting like my friend the hummingbird. If my kids acted like this I think I'd be dragging them off by the arm, to have a quiet word about getting along with others when on the playground in their ear.

And now look - there's suddenly five jays sitting there, clearly intent on Being Pests.

But it isn't until one actually pecks at the hawk's tail that something happens: the hawk leaves. The jays squawk pleasantly at each other for a few minutes, then fly away.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sperm & Fish

Yes, those two words DO end up together in this post. Trust me.

A funny thing happened this week. We'd signed up for a homeschool field trip a couple of weeks ago. It was a grades 4-7 trip to see the salmon spawn at a local provincial park. There would be a guide. There would be a film. It sounded fun. It was also a cheap trip - $2 a person - but a week before the trip FDPG and Dominic showed some concern that they were going to be WAY OLDER than everyone else there because they were in grade eight. This tour ended with grade seven, they reminded me severely. GRADE SEVEN. They are in GRADE EIGHT.  Surely I knew this. They expressed way too much incredulity (one was more polite about it than the other, that's for darn sure) at my signing them up for a tour that ended with a grade 7 period. How could I have done that?

Dominic was very firm. He. Would. Not. Attend. He brought up another trip we had attended where they WERE way too old and other the kids WERE all too young and the talk was WAY too juvenile (baby songs might have been sung). They reminded me how wildly embarrassing it was. I agreed, it HAD been embarrassing. I HAD felt bad for them. I HAD promised not to do that again. Solidarity.

I emailed the organizer, who was very nice and tried to find some more participants. No takers. I felt bad so I told the organizer that we would definitely show up, because I really hate it when people don't show up for organized trips and the organizer is left holding the bill. This happens a lot with our homeschool community: it's annoying and frustrating but there it is.

So we show up on the Appointed Day, my two reluctant ball and chains in tow. The organizer was waiting for us in the Nature House. As usual almost everyone else was late. I was standing idly in a corner of the Nature House waiting when I overheard a guide say "so, what songs should I do with the group that's coming?" Songs? I feel the icy grip of disaster grab me. I sidle towards the desk as surreptitiously as possible so I could hear the other guide answer. "Do the Fishy Song," she said, "the arm movements look like this and then you have them jump up and down for the next verse while pretending they are swimming. Then they can sing the final verse with you!"  They all beamed at each other, except for the male guide, who looked at me as though wondering why I was eavesdropping on such Super Secret Technical Information. I smile weakly and moved away.

I decide it would be best not to say anything to the twins about the impending song choices. Or the arm movements. 

Eventually we assemble at the back of the Nature House with our raggle taggle group of homeschoolers. There are tiny little kids chairs to sit in. Some of us sit. Boy, I thought, you sure can tell homeschoolers: one kid was in a medieval knight costume, two wore homespun knitted outfits that looked, well, weird, and the rest looked worryingly feral. Dominic was doing his If I Pretend Hard Enough I Just Might Disappear routine, staring hard at the ceiling. FDPG was making the best of what she clearly thought was a bad situation. She's philosophical that way.

Our guide walks in and sits down with a fish poster. An old, tatty fish poster. It's the Boy Guide, the one who thought I was stealing Nature House Secrets. He has a very soft voice. No one can really hear him. At least, I can't hear anything he's saying, so I decide to sit in one of the chairs right near him. He interprets this as a hostile gesture, I suspect, because he stops talking and looks at me carefully. I smile in what I hope is an extremely benign way. Fortunately he has no choice BUT to go on, so he does.

We sit through a lesson on how salmon spawn. He talks about the eggs, the fish sperm, how the salmon jaw changes while they spawn, how long they live, and so on. He asks the kids to speculate on the size of a fish brain, or how long they live, and stuff like that. He's a super low talker but he is genuinely interested in his topic. There has been no singing thus far, either.

There is, however, as there always is on tours like these, a kid in the group who knows all the answers and isn't shy about belting them out whenever the guide asks a question. He's very self-congratulatory which is even more irritating. At one point he asks the guide if he's wondering how he knows all this stuff. Awkward. His mother stands beside him beaming proudly, utterly oblivious. I can tell that the guide is uneasy but since no one else is even trying to answer any questions, he lets him go for it. If this were a Diary of a Wimpy Kid novel I would expect Bad Things to happen to this kid at break time out behind the Nature House, but because it's a Homeschool Tour nothing does. Well, a few kids start picking their noses but that's about it.

We then troop into the little theatre to see a film to "solidify" our knowledge about salmon. It's a really old film. I probably saw it when I was in school and that was a LONG time ago. I stand at the back and again, can't hear a thing. The film is ancient and grainy and looks as though the colour is leaking out as we're watching it. Everyone peers hard at the blurry images and tries to imagine the "brilliant colours" we're told we're looking at. Nevertheless the kids all listen carefully and quietly, mine included. Factoid Boy is mercifully silent. When it's over we go outside and down to the river to look at the salmon. I remember this part from my school days. We'd go in a school tour and I'd feel sick the entire time, watching the seagulls flocking on the edges, pecking and pecking and shrieking and shrieking, while the poor bloody salmon struggled along. I wonder, not for the first time, why I thought the twins would enjoy a tour like this.

Fortunately our guide is young and enthusiastic. He's also incredibly knowledgeable. He walks along the water's edge and points out various things: early spawners, old spawners, side markings on the fish and what they mean, the places salmon like to spawn in, the places where they likely fight. It's fascinating. Then our guide asks us if we would like to see inside a fish. Factoid Boy shouts out "YES WE WOULD!!!!" So he does. He walks around looking for a freshly dead salmon. There are a lot to choose from. He lays the salmon down in front of us, then drags his foot in the gravel, making a circle around the salmon. "We won't get in this circle," he says, "because this gives the salmon a dignified space." I'm not sure what he's getting at here but we're all willing to go with it, except for one of the nose pickers who interprets this as a request to get INSIDE the circle.

Then the guide gets out his knife and cuts a neat rectangle on the side of the fish. Oh wait, I forgot the good bit: right before he does this (it's a male fish) he starts milking all the sperm (err, milt) out of the fish. In great long creamy spurts. Over and over again. There's tons of milt in this fish. Gallons. It's graphically, wildly, improbably sexual in a strange and disturbing way. All the mothers stiffen. A snort escapes my mouth, causing the guide to look up. In one uneasy instant he realizes what we're all thinking and starts feeling self-conscious. The poor earnest guide, I think. I start laughing. Factoid Boy, not wanting to seem ignorant of ANYTHING scientific, chortles along with me. Fortunately the sperm stream, err, milt stream, ends, so we can all get back to normal. I wonder if anyone is going to light a cigarette then remember that I'm amongst devoted eco-West Coasters and if anyone is going to light anything it'll probably be an e-cigarette (or a joint).

We see the brain of the salmon, we see his kidney, his swim bladder, his heart, and his liver. It's a little graphic at times but everyone is clearly enjoying this part and they all jostle around, trying to respect the Dignified Space without missing too much. The best part is when he popped out the cornea, which looked like a miniature crystal ball, placed it on his palm, and showed it around. When we'd all looked as much as we wanted, he popped it back in, then replaced the organs and slid the flap shut. "For the next guide," he explained, "some of the girls aren't very good cutting open the fish." I wonder what else they don't do.

And that was that. One family had a seagull poop on them, Factoid Boy fell while balancing on a log (while shouting "look at meeeee!"), and FDPG got wet feet trying to ford a river, but all in all it was a remarkably good tour. We even got to meet a 900 year old tree, not to mention watching a dead fish ejaculate. Good times.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pictorial Evidence

This was the first Halloween that I didn't take photos of my kids in their costumes.

Okay, I did take a couple of shots of Eldest Son in his Deadmau5 head (which you would have seen on my Facebook page), but those photos were taken less as a result of it being a Halloween costume than they were because we were all so shocked that it was a) finally finished, b) being worn to - gasp - SCHOOL, and c) it was finally finished.

Sadly, its start in life wasn't great, as you might expect from a craftsman who wasn't interested in anything that required time, effort, or finesse, aka a 14 year old boy. They have Big Dreams, these boys, but the strenuousness of turning those Big Dreams into Cold Hard Reality is often just too much work.

I, being the (sometimes often) grimly realistic mother that I am, was confident that that piece of papier maché would live out its days as a Half-Made Prototype taking up space in the workshop, in someone's closet, on the kitchen table, or on the coffee table.

Then, after being closeted for close to three years, kicked once or twice in a fit of pique, and having way too much money spent on it (not by ME, I hasten to add), it was finally resurrected and completed. I documented the moment with a photo. Then Eldest Son went off to public school, with it on his head. Apparently he wore it all day. I know because he texted me a few photos. One of him with other dressed up highschoolers; one with our university lecturer friend who dresses up as a giant pink bunny each year (and yes, he DOES teach his classes this way). The two of them are standing side by side, one very tall in a very pink furry suit, the other made tall by the giant blue head with its equally giant blue ears. His arms were crossed and his feet stood wide. I could feel the cool burning out of that Deadmau5 head. This kid sure has attitude, I thought. Attitude made bright by the completion of an albatross of a project.

That was probably when I realized that I forgot to take photos of the other two offspring. At that point of course they'd already changed into pajamas, washed the make-up off their faces, and were scoffing candy.

And thus ended another Halloween.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesday's Song of the Day

 I've been posting this everywhere because it's just so incredibly awesome, but I forgot to post it here (where it's way easier to find than on Facebook).

If you're one of those people who do a little swoon at the end of Love Actually, you'll love this new version. There is so much to love about it: singers, sets, music, and fantasy. It's got it all.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Early Mornings

 One of the benefits to waking early these last few mornings is the short burst of colour on the clouds one gets as the sun rises. I don't know the science behind it, but it comes and then it's gone. Just like that.It encourages magical thinking.

And the clouds are doing all manner of odd things.

The moon is even hanging around. All I can hear are the squawks of the Stellar's jays, the rustling of the nearby squirrels, the fall of the acorns hitting the neighbour's roof, and the tut-tutting of the little Bushtits on the deck. Lovely quiet morning sounds.

Well, all except those Stellar's jays. They sound like a grouchy rusty old screen door, creaking open and shut, over and over again. Funny that such a beautiful bird has such a jarring cry.

We've had an extremely long run of hot dry weather this summer, which has lulled me into a false sense of when fall should or shouldn't be here, not to mention when winter might or might not appear. It was 22ºC on the deck yesterday. We had every doors and window open. I made 12 quarts of spiced applesauce, turned the Thanksgiving turkey into stock, picked yet more raspberries, and got another tub of Juliet and bastard Sungold tomatoes. They've been the best producers here this year and they're STILL fruiting.

What I WANT to do is leave the soaker hoses out in case things need watering. Leave the tomatoes in the ground, in case they keep producing. Leave the greenhouse open, because it's so hot during the day. But I also know that just one single bout of cold rain, along with a few nights of damp, and the garden will be a mass of sodden mush, sliming the hoses, encouraging blight, and rotting my pumpkins. So today I'll wind up the hoses, drain the lines, pick a bucket or two of tomatillos, and plant the garlic.  

I will also trudge outside at night to close up the greenhouse. I might even place the Christmas lights, so I don't have to do it later, in a hurried panic at the limp orange and lime leaves.

The cold frame has been moved so it can cover up the rows of lettuces, cayenne peppers, and leftover basil. The long row cover is over the tender little green onion shoots, the last few radicchio (which REALLY look miserable after a rain), and some Holy Basil. Speaking of Holy Basil, I think it's my new favourite garden plant. You always know when you've brushed against it. I'm not prone to much whimsical thinking but this plant smells of magic. And happiness.

And in the meantime I'll look out at FDPG's remaining dianthus flowers, raggedy stalwarts of the fall.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Simple Recipes

One cheap Walmart ringbinder = $3
Stickers from Michaels = $4
Cardstock = $1
Printed nameplates = 25¢

Cooking experiences happen twice a week, and those recipes deemed INCREDIBLE will be printed up and glued into the cookbooks.

So far we've made cookies (Dorie Greenspan's Espresso Chocolate Cookies), brownies, focaccia, an apple pie, and chocolate chip cookies (seeing a theme here yet).

Funny how the simplest things go so far.